At its core, minimalism encourages simplicity and utility, so clothing enhances your lifestyle rather than consumes it. In the fashion industry, the tenets of minimalism are fabric, form, comfort, and practicality. There is an emphasis on clean lines, neutral colors, tonal dressing, and comfortable yet powerful designs.

Between the 1990s and the late 2000s, the “clean and white” minimalist aesthetic was reserved for Caucasian-identifying designers, artists, and influencers. Creatives identifying as Black, or people of color, are excluded from conversations on minimalism across industries.

More often than not, Black-owned brands are mislabeled as “streetwear” and positioned differently than their actual design aesthetic. Despite the social, political, and economic upheaval of 2020, the fashion and design industries are experiencing foundational changes, including a new era of minimalism. Through innovative digital campaigns and brand collaborations, consumers are being introduced to new designers illustrating softer, minimal aesthetics.

Among these brands, which include luxury and streetwear, are teams being led by Black designers and creatives. Retailers and publications are targeting consumer demands by highlighting talented designers. Although this is just the beginning, Black creatives — aligning to the essence of minimalism — are entering the conversation.

We spoke to four Black creatives about this new era, their contributions to minimalism, and what is in hope for the future of fashion and design.

Cerise and Ola Alabi, Cold Laundry

Cold Laundry is a London-based contemporary brand that was founded in 2019 by Ola and Cerise Alabi. The brand, which originally started as the couple’s side project, is committed to unisex design by creating functional and modern pieces at an accessible price. Ola and Cerise hope to evolve as an ethical and sustainable clothing brand, starting with its ethical manufacturing. Cold Laundry has gained popularity with its pastel palettes and soft monochrome fits — its new releases sell out within minutes every time.

What are your definitions of minimalism?

Minimalism is a way of life. It’s an aesthetic that extracts the beauty of simplicity. Picture a blank canvas — that feeling knowing that there is the potential to create whatever you can dream of but understanding that there is beauty in the canvas itself. That for us is a minimalist mindset, which we try and approach our design process with.

What do you appreciate about minimalism?

In a world where everything can be so hectic, we find so much joy in the challenge of taking it all away, focusing on details, the cuts, the color palettes, and overall functionality of our garments. We don’t really brand any of our garments, which we feel our customers love.

Are there any Black designers or creatives who have inspired you?

Solange inspires us daily. Her work is so effortless. The way she creates with the idea of putting art first is just beautiful to see.

Why are Black creatives only now being recognized for their contributions to minimalism in fashion and design?

If you look at some of the successful Black designers who were also part of shaping hip-hop culture, their designs were not really minimal. That is fine for the time, but if you mix that in with Black designers historically being overlooked, it’s inevitable that there wouldn’t be a strong affiliation to minimalism. As time has progressed, we’ve seen Black designers get more exposure and coverage. This is encouraging more Black designers to adopt a more clean and minimal design process.

Any last thoughts on this new era of minimalism?

The impact. We have really become aware of the power of minimalism and pay close attention to the feedback of our community. We are often told by our customers that Cold Laundry’s content makes them feel at peace, inspired, and a general sense of escapism. That for us is the biggest compliment. We don’t want to be a brand that is just trying to sell you something. Cold Laundry is a platform where people can come together to enjoy art and we are so proud that our community is able to do that with us.

Na Chainkua Reindorf, Chainky

Na Chainkua Reindorf is a mixed media artist and mythmaker based in New York City. She was born and raised in Ghana, which influences her practices in photography, painting, and sculpture. Her work is rooted in West African textiles ranging from large-scale tapestries to sculptural installations. Reindorf hopes to create inclusive spaces and content that encourages dialogue around the topics of gender, identity, and contemporary art.

What do you appreciate about minimalism?

Minimalism is much less about the absence of color and the presence of geometric shapes; it’s an exercise in restraint. I think a lot about elegance and how it can be achieved when minimalism is done successfully, and this is all about being powerful and effective yet deceptively simple. What is so exciting is that this concept can be applied across many different fields.

What should every minimalist add to their closet?

A crisp poplin white button-down shirt. It is a simple item, but also does a lot of work.

What is the best investment piece?

Black patent mid-heel Margiela Tabis. They have such a distinct design, which makes them both special and quiet. They are comfortable and well-made, which is a perfect combination when looking to invest in a piece.

Are there any Black designers or creatives that have inspired you?

Cushnie and its dedication to drape and how fabric falls on the body; William Okpo, with the way they incorporate forms and shapes and texture into their garments; Cold Laundry, with their limited color palette and simplified shapes.

I think a lot about David Hammons, a Black artist whose work is considered in many art circles to be minimalist, post-minimalist, and conceptual.

Solange’s performances are art and her vision for her stage design is brilliant. It is a Black perspective with minimalistic sensibilities. It is always so amazing to see Black bodies moving with ease around these spaces she has imagined.

Why are Black creatives only now being recognized for their contributions to minimalism in fashion and design?

Unfortunately, and fortunately, the push to amplify melanated voices over the past few months — a result of the death of Black people — allowed for a wider range of Black creatives to be brought to the forefront. Social media allowed the world to see how many insanely talented Black people there are and how wide their talents range in such different fields, minimalism included.

Who else should be included in this conversation?

I would like to see what minimalism means to people who are not skinny, wealthy, or necessarily white. I am interested in designers who are concerned with ideas like using deadstock fabrics, designers interested in formal qualities, designers exploring a single color in their work or one type of fabric.

Maggie Holladay, Claude Home

Maggie Holladay is a former fashion editor for i-D Magazine who turned her love for vintage collecting into Claude Home in 2018. Claude Home was one of the first NYC Instagram-based vintage furniture and home décor businesses to draw a growing global audience with its minimalist aesthetic and imagery of Bouclé sofas and Corbi seating. Maggie is the sole collector and curates her website with a variety of vintage furniture and items, including works by Roxanne Morrison, Chandler Mclellan, and Lauren Beck. Maggie’s mission with Claude Home is to help people learn about new designs and purchase timeless pieces that add beauty to their homes.

What’s your definition of minimalism?

Minimalism is about living with less in your life and having items around you that you cherish and are not a burden. In my work, I promote investing in a few items that are special, instead of purchasing a ton of items that might bring clutter to your life and space. To me, that’s minimalism. You can be minimalistic in the way you dress, how your home looks, and how you go about your life.

How would you describe your creative process and platform?

I describe my creative process as unique. I’m not classically trained in furniture design, and I do things in a way that I don’t think many others do. Minimalism definitely plays a role as I’m all about having less and less versus more and more, which is the reason that I don’t have a large amount of stock available. I like to make sure that I find perfect, unique pieces that you could love for the rest of your life.

Are there any Black designers or creatives that have inspired you?

I’m very much in love with the work of James Perkins; I find his artworks extremely minimal but also very impactful. Also Theaster Gates, who does incredible installations.

Why are Black creatives only now being recognized for their contributions to minimalism in fashion and design?

I believe a lot of Black designers and creatives are only now being recognized for leading in minimalism because many companies and publications are working harder and pushing themselves to do more research in this space. This allows for more opportunities for the Black community, giving them recognition that they haven’t received in the past.

Which spaces would you like to see more Black creatives be included in?

I’d love to see more Black furniture designers, interior designers, and artists being recognized, and in more magazines and interviews. I’d like to see these people given more opportunity to grow their brands and their artwork.

Bertony Da Silva, Arte Antwerp

Bertony Da Silva founded Arte Antwerp in 2009 when he was a graphic design and illustration student (the brand changed its name from Artenative to Arte Antwerp in 2016 after the opening of its flagship store in Antwerp). With this name, Bertony wanted to pay homage to the city that influenced him. Bertony strives to design ready-to-wear collections that unify different art forms and celebrate diverse communities across borders and landscapes.

What is your definition of minimalism?

Minimalism is unquestionably captured by the quote of Mies van der Rohe: Less is more. It’s a way of designing that can be inspired by different fields of art, but also by what we encounter in our daily life. I know why some would describe Arte Antwerp as a minimalistic brand, but I feel we transcend the limits of the concept and that we are more than the pure definition of the word. Our way of designing is minimalistic in the sense that it’s focusing on the essence of a garment, yet every collection has a contemporary and artistic finishing touch that goes far beyond minimalism and tells an expressive story.

What do you appreciate about minimalism?

To be able to cancel out all the noise, to notice everything around us very closely: that’s the luxury of minimalism to me. I feel, both in fashion and in life, minimalism is not wanting to consume more stuff, but instead wanting to have the attention and appreciation for what’s already in front of us. There’s too little of that.

Which minimalist designers influence you and your brand?

Helmut Lang is definitely the first iconic designer that pops into my mind. He’s the first creative who truly captured the essence of minimalism back in the ’90s. The way he sent out his models on the runway, make-up free and wearing flat shoes, was the true embodiment of “less is more”.

Why are Black creatives only now being recognized for their contributions to minimalism in fashion and design?

I think that we can all agree that it took a pandemic and a quarantine to no longer have any distractions from a conversation that was long overdue. After worldwide protests about structural and systemic racism, it was time to have the same conversation in the fashion industry as well. We still have a long way to go, but people are starting to adjust their perspectives. Only now is there a realization that minimalism is not a solely Western concept, but a fluid one that evolves over time and place.

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