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When Will We Max Out on Minimalism?

Fashion followers are gravitating towards simple, refined pieces. But could plain putter out sooner than we expect?

"This house is not the house of normcore and I am done with minimalism," A.P.C.'s Jean Touitou declared at the house's spring 2015 menswear presentation. Strong words, coming from the founder of a brand rooted in utilitarian clothing. Touitou may have been hyperbolizing, but there's something telling in his statement. Could we collectively max out on minimalism sooner than we expect?  

It was just a little over a year ago that Mansur Gavriel's line of lacquered-leather totes and bucket bags hit the shelves of Steven Alan. The gently priced accessories -- $400-$600, chump change in fashion-girl world -- appealed to practical fast-fashion naysayers who happen to find spending four figures on a purse just as appalling as spending $40.

A crop of startup labels followed in its path, promising elevated wardrobe basics: the perfect black blazer, the perfect white tee, the perfect pair of jeans, the perfect white sneaker. Perfect, perfect, perfect. There is Ayr, the women’s collection from Bonobos with a tagline that reads, “Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to find.” The goal of the collection is to offer all those “simple” pieces currently missing from your wardrobe: a chambray shirt dress, a long silk tank, cropped cigarette pants. Protagonist, the collection designed by Kate Wendelborn -- whose sister Morgan is creative director of online minimalist emporium The Line -- might offer the sharpest take on the idea: a cotton twill shirt with a cutaway collarbone neckline, a silk georgette T-shirt and a pair of navy wide-leg trousers are favorites. And who could forget COS, the Swedish import whose sleeveless blazer dresses, graduated hem blouses and A-line skirts crashed Opening Ceremony's website last October when it was offered in the U.S. for the first time?

Even a casual observer has surely noticed this shift toward the spare. "We are so overwhelmed with trends, bloggers and over-dressed looks that it's refreshing to go back to basics," says Melissa Moylan, women's creative director at New York-based trend forecasting firm Fashion Snoops, explaining why we all want to look simple so badly.  Inspired by Céline's Phoebe Philo, as well at Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen at the Row, and Raf Simons when he was at Jil Sander, this flavor of minimalism is less severe than what we saw in the '90s. (Yes, the clean lines are there, but it isn't completely devoid of pattern or color either. In fact, Philo's brushstroke-heavy spring 2014 collection inspired some to call it maximal minimalism.) This not-so-literal take on the concept gives the wearer some slack, which might be why it has become such a popular look. And Moylan is right; we are all so sick of of the blogger-as-peacock thing that doing the opposite is the only sensible reaction.

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But how many perfect tees and pairs of pleated trousers can we pack into our wardrobes? While there's always a market for basics -- not to mention a contingency of diehard minimalists -- not every label with a "pare it back" ethos will resonate as strongly as Mansur Gavriel or Protagonist. There's a fine line between simple and boring. "Shirt dresses, wide leg trousers and slip dresses are current must-haves that nod to minimalism, but brands need to offer something different in order to compete," says Moylan. For Touitou, that means using "hardcore styling." But A.P.C. 's success lies in its refusal to directly play to trends. New labels will need to prove that they do not view minimalism as a moment but instead, a way of being.