How Maximalism Is Changing the Shape of Fashion

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The model for our maximalism: Yaya DaCosta.Photo: Bobby Doherty
Maximalism!
A big, bona fide shift in the shape of fashion.
Photographs by Bobby Doherty

There are, on the current calendar, more fashion shows than there have ever been before. Spring-summer, pre-fall, resort, pre-collection, fall-winter, and now an increasing number of “capsule” collections at apparently random intervals in ever-more-exotic, Instagrammable locations, but the presence of more garments on more runways is not the same thing as new trends. Shifts in fashion occur when they occur — when the wind blows as it hasn’t in quite some time, maybe, or the temperature changes in some nearly inscrutable way, and this has nothing to do with how many new deliveries a department store requires.

This season, it’s official. There’s been a shift. In 2010, Phoebe Philo at Céline launched a collection so strong that suddenly the entire fashion conversation was about restraint, about the purity of bold gestures and lines. But the pendulum has swung, and we are in a heavily bedazzled moment of maximalism, of paillettes and embellishments, of layers of lace and unexpected combinations of color. As the new minimalism had Philo at its head, this movement’s spiritual leader is Alessandro Michele, the creative director at Gucci, who wears rings on each of his fingers and has a biblical beard and a thing for metaphysical philosophy. During international Fashion Weeks, the same fashion editors who used to line up at Céline for navy-blue cashmere crewnecks with only the slightest asymmetry at the hem are now back-ordering a ribbed Gucci crewneck in stripes that range from magenta to lilac to mustard to lime. Or another with an angry tiger on the neck, or another still with a bright, naïf rainbow printed halfway down. There’s plenty of Lurex, and there are kimonos, too.

Michele’s not operating in a vacuum: There’s a renewed interest in Dolce & Gabbana; tiaras with headphones attached, for example, have become a staple accessory for the brand. The layers at Prada are each intricate and exciting in construction, in color, in scale.

It’s certainly a trickier way of dressing: It requires thought and strategy, or maybe it just requires enthusiasm, a willingness to pile it all on and hope for the best, but there can be no question that it’s a pretty entertaining way to be, with lots of room for self-expression and experimentation.

Is there a reason? Does it connect to the way women see themselves in the world at this very moment? Is it a comment on the current state of femininity, or a response to a global desire for sunshine and life, optimism amid anxiety? Maybe. But it’s probably a bit simpler than that. It’s probably just because the eye, inevitably, wants what it hasn’t been getting.

The Model for Our Maximalism: Yaya DaCosta

It has been over a decade since Yaya DaCosta finished as the runner-up on America’s Next Top Model, but recovery has taken a while. “For a long time,” she admits, “I couldn’t own up to the title of being an actress and a model because I felt like people didn’t take me as seriously, and I’m a serious actress.” Fans still remember her as the beautiful contestant from Brown University who was a little too smart for the judges’ taste and probably should have won, but, fortunately for her, didn’t. “It was a blessing, because it gave me the ability to detach,” DaCosta says. “I pretended that the show didn’t happen — that was the only way that I was able to get taken seriously in the beginning.

“The purpose doesn’t seem to have been to create top models; it was to have a successful show,” she adds. “There were a lot of girls who couldn’t take the stress [of] the aftermath. I’ve heard horror stories of drug abuse. Not everybody has the strength to be able to deal with it emotionally. But in retrospect, I’m so grateful for it. I could’ve been on Chicago Med and with no one knowing who I was and maybe not paying as close attention.”

Instead, DaCosta has put together the résumé of a working actor. Before landing as a regular on Chicago Med this fall (her character, April Sexton, was first on Chicago Fire), she appeared on shows like Ugly Betty and House and got a number of supporting roles in films like Lee Daniels’ The Butler, The Kids Are All Right, and the upcoming comedy The Nice Guys starring Ryan Gosling. Over time, she has acquired a number of mentors — “aunties and uncles” like Angela Bassett, who directed her as Whitney Houston in the Lifetime biopic Whitney. It was Bassett who told her, “You are everything.”

That was something she needed to hear, especially after the constant nitpicking she endured during her time on ANTM. When asked where her confidence comes from, she says, “I had to heal myself from the brainwashing of being told you are not worthy, you don’t belong — because people are made to feel threatened by you, or because they think you think you’re better,” says DaCosta. “No. Those are all projections. Those are their feelings not mine. That doesn’t belong to me. Return to sender.” — E. Alex Jung

Photographs by Bobby Doherty

Styling by Rebecca Ramsey; hair by Mann Nance for Mizani USA at Jump; wig by Chuck Amos for bumble and bumble at Jump; makeup by Nick Barose for Exclusive Artists Management using Armani Beauty; nails by Barbara Mutnick for Exclusive Artists Management.

*This article appears in the February 8, 2016 issue of New York Magazine.