Commentary

Wherefore Jil Sander In The Wake Of Sander's Exit?

The 69-year-old German-born designer Jil Sander is striking out from the eponymous label she founded in 1968 after a short-lived, but generally well-received, return as creative director. Citing “personal reasons,” her exit “raises questions for the brand,” as the Women’s Wear Daily headline perhaps understates.

“Sander returned to her namesake brand last year after an eight-year absence, taking over from Raf Simons when he left for Dior,” Manuela Mesco reports in the Wall Street Journal

“Sander, known for her clean, sophisticated designs and rich fabrics — left the house she founded in the 1960s twice before: once in 2000 and a second time in 2004. At the time, the house belonged to Italian fashion giant Prada and Ms. Sander and then-owner Patrizio Bertelli clashed over divergent views of the brand's future direction.” (Bertelli is Miuccia Prada's husband, as you no doubt know, but Vogue’s Lauren Milligan reminds us.)

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“Her clothes were many things but, to me, they were a smart woman’s answer to minimalist tailoring,” writes Cathy Horyn in the New York Times. “You chose a Sander pantsuit if Armani beige (and its ubiquity) was not your thing. It was a lovely way to dress if you had things to do besides think of, well, your clothes.”

Sander is described by consultant Armando Branchini of Milan’s InterCorporate as “one of the inventors of rigorous understatement.” But count Branchini among those who feel that her time in the lights has perhaps come and gone and “no longer has a unique value proposition.”

“It’s worth continuing to invest in the brand,” he tellsWomen’s Wear Daily’s Luisa Zargini, Melissa Drier and Joelle Diderich. “It’s always been a niche label, but clean and of the highest quality; it deserves an investment in innovation.” 

When she returned to the company in February 2012, replacing the acclaimed Simons, she said, “At the moment, there seems to be a craving for authenticity and clear visions,” reported the Telegraph’s Olivia Bergin. “I am confident that this is the time for modern sophistication, for attractive, wearable fashion which is true to the new century.”

Prada was no longer the owner. It sold the company to Change Capital Partners in 2006, which sold it in 2008 to Japan’s Onward Holdings, where it is part of Gibò Co. SpA.

“On behalf of the group, I want to thank Jil Sander for her remarkable contribution to the brand over this period,” Jil Sander CEO Alessandro Cremonesi said yesterday. “Her outstanding design and creative leadership have been crucial in reinforcing the brand and positioning it to foster further prosperous growth.”

New York’s Charlotte Cowles isn’t buying “personal reasons” as the real reason for the departure. “This is a pattern: Sander has never stayed long at a label she didn't own,” she writes, pointing out that her clashes were not only with Prada. 

“She made another awkward exit from Uniqlo in 2011,” Cowles reminds us, when the company tersely announced: “Ms. Sander and [Uniqlo] agreed that they had fully explored the possibilities of their creative collaboration and accomplished what they had set out to do.”

“It’s hard to have such a quick succession of creative directors without any collateral damage,” Justin O’Shea, buying director of German luxury e-tailer Mytheresa.com tells WWD. “I love Jil Sander and I can only hope that they look very intensely and cleverly to find a successor who can [create] a new ‘life’ for this amazing brand.”

Moving forward, the company should “skip a star designer and put together a strong design team,” suggest the NYT’s Horyn. “It should entice consumers with great products and avoid histrionics. Nobody cares.”

“As for Ms. Sander,” Horyn writes, “she should do only what pleases her and what she can control 100%. She deserves no less.”

Now if that’s not the life of Riley, it’s apparently the life of Armani, whom Horyn profiled last week. Stood up for a promised lunch after a revealing interview with the 79-year-old designer in his home, Horyn looked elsewhere for insights into his mindset. 

“‘Maybe in our world we feel he’s a little passé, but he owns every store and factory,’ said a former executive, adding with a chortle: ‘He’s a big industrialist. He doesn’t care! He probably had to be talked into meeting at home, but wasn’t going to sit down for lunch.”

Which you can do when you’re personally worth $8.5 billion or so.

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