Jil Sander on +J, today’s fashions and her ultimate successors at the house she founded
Few creators have created as distinctive a body of work as Jil Sander, generally regarded as the greatest minimalist fashion designer in history.
Her refined forms; obsessive use of subtle detailing; insistence on tactile fabrics and innate understanding of the human form have allowed her to build a unique body of work in a career that has now spanned five decades.
Sander’s latest expression is her new collaboration with Uniqlo called +J, which reviews a link-up she first made with the Japanese retailing giant back in 2010. The collection – for men and women – debuted last month in Germany, but due to the global lockdown has only gradually begun to appear in Uniqlo flagships internationally.
Though born in Wesselburen, in a military hospital near the North Sea, Jil founded her own fashion house in 1968 in Hamburg, even using her mother’s sewing machine. She immediately gained a reputation for her ability to dress clever and sophisticated women in an understated yet patrician style; before successfully launching her company on the stock market in 1989. By 1999, when the house had revenues in excess of $200 million, she initiated a joint venture with Prada, before both retiring and returning to her brand twice, and then seemingly laying down her scissors for good in 2013. Until that is Uniqlo came calling again.
Independently, Sander had also created her own fashion consultancy and her first client was Fast Retailing, for whose Uniqlo division she developed the first +J collection a decade ago.
So, this latest 2020 collection from Jil Sander for Uniqlo offers fans the chance to acquire clothes that are both cerebral and sophisticated at a price that causes little pain at the cash register. It features simple yet superb dark down parkas; refined mannish shirts and hyper professional blazers for women; and classy cardigans with droplet spots; ideal light blue work shirts and gentlemanly chester topcoats for men.
Which is why we caught up with the legendarily discreet Frau Sander - the greatest living designer in Mitteleuropa - to learn a little more about her dreams for this collab and for fashion; her view on today’s fashion shows and her opinion of her ultimate successors at the house of Jil Sander.
FashionNetwork.com: Why did you want to create this collection with Uniqlo?
Jil Sander: I wanted to react to disposable fashion with a collection of high quality and contemporary 3D shapes at democratic prices.
FNW: What do you enjoy most about working with Uniqlo?
JS: I am impressed by Uniqlo’s buying power, logistics, and global distribution network. The possibility to reach many people all over the world makes me happy. Uniqlo supports me in my vision of sophisticated modern uniforms for everyone, regardless of class and ethnic differences.
FNW: What did you want to do differently this time compared to your previous collaboration?
JS: The mood this time around was very different which is reflected in more generous, soft and protective silhouettes. Also, the collection was to be quite concentrated. Creatively, it was a real challenge not to lose the content in reducing and to achieve a whole instead of just separate parts.
FNW: People have been queuing outside Uniqlo stores in Berlin to buy +J . How does it feel to still have such influence in fashion?
JS: I was surprised and impressed by the queues, since they implied that I haven’t been forgotten. Maybe the moment was right to offer a design which looks for purity and tries to be truly contemporary.
FNW: I believe you are working on a book project. What sort of book are you planning?
JS: The book is meant to put my life’s work into perspective, to show how all my efforts were inspired by the same attitude and the same vision.
FNW: Do you miss staging runway shows yourself?
JS: Lately, shows have turned into big events. But in the last year, due to the pandemic, it was very difficult to stage this kind of format, and people worked on new creative ways to present their work. I always tried to be very precise in my fashion shows and to focus on the actual wearability. But I am open to different possibilities, and with +J, we followed a low-key virtual presentation which was okay with me.
FNW: People generally describe your style as minimalist. Do you think that does justice to what you create?
JS: Myself, I never speak of minimalism. For me, it relates to certain tendencies in art and architecture. But if you work on the human body, there is a limit to reduction. I want to create clothes that highlight the individual, and the process to get there can be very complex. The final outcome for me is purity, the impression that the wearer is in harmony with his or her body, with their dignity, and also with their times.
FNW: If you are going to be remembered for a single great contribution to fashion, what would you like it to be?
JS: I would like an overall vision to be remembered. My approach to fashion is my approach to life. I believe in changing things for the better and to co-design the present moment in order to do so. I also believe in discarding things that no longer have any meaning. I want my work to be relevant and help us focus on the future.
FNW: You created a museum show in Frankfurt, do you plan any others and where?
JS: Right now, because of the pandemic, all talk about exhibitions is off. But in the future, I would like the exhibition to travel.
FNW: Since you quit designing collections annually, you devoted a good deal of time to gardening. What’s the biggest difference between designing a garden and designing fashion?
JS: The difference is not so great. A garden is constantly changing, and you have to adapt to new conditions and create new harmonies. The same goes for social and cultural changes. You get tired of things past and crave new cuts, proportions and textile solutions.
FNW: What does it feel seeing the collections of Luke and Lucie Meier for Jil Sander?
JS: I am glad to see that Jil Sander is in their able hands.
FNW: Who are the other designers you admire, both in the past and today, and why?
JS: There are many designers I am interested in, but I prefer not to name them individually.
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