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Luxury and Restraint: Minimalism in 1990s Fashion

Simple, elegant and restrained, American designer Marc Jacobs’ work epitomizes the 1990s minimalist aesthetic. His spring 1998 collection comprised a series of easy separates, little soft grey cardigans, flirty pleated skirts, contrasting fuchsia macs and sporty clam diggers. There was a slight hint at 1950s style in the cut, but not so much that the modern feel of the collection became swamped with nostalgia; there were enough references to trend-based shapes and colors that the potential consumer could feel comfortably fashion-conscious, but there was nothing too extreme, too difficult to wear.

As such it seemed perfect for contemporary women’s lives: streamlined, stripped of clutter, functional yet beautiful. Importantly it also drew upon the undoubted allure of luxury fabrics. The cut of the clothes may have been restrained but the luxury of the materials, soft cashmeres, and fine wools meant that the wearer was able to indulge in the tactile pleasure of expensive fabrics next to the skin.

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Since the late 1990s we have liked to believe in the simplicity of the minimalist lifestyle, with its pleasing connotations of controlled rationality, which creates a tranquil space in the chaos of urban living, but we also crave the comforting embrace of luxury.

While the idea of capsule wardrobes, made up of infinitely interchangeable key separates, may be enticing, there is also a desire to retain a sense of distinction, particularly from the mass-market copy. The look may appear democratically accessible, but the cost of such minimal styles is prohibitive.

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While high street fashion may have become increasingly quick at replicating the latest catwalk looks, quality has, however, remained harder to emulate. And as was pointed out in the Observer Magazine in July 1998,

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