When a fashion designer like Jil Sander says “I owe the insight to artists that reduction can be very powerful. And they have encouraged me in believing that quality can be felt immediately.” – then a museum exhibition is almost inevitable. So be it: From November 3 2017 the “Museum für Angewandte Kunst” in Frankfurt shows a comprehensive solo exhibition of fashion and product design by Jil Sander, whose actual name is Heidemarie Jiline Sander, born on November 27 1943 in Wesselburen, Germany.
Sander started to collect art early on and invested her first earnings into works by Robert Ryman or Cy Twombly. She also took inspiration for her collections from serial works by pop artist Andy Warhol or the cut canvasses of the Italian Lucio Fontana. Jil Sander grew up in Hamburg. After studying Textile Engineering at Krefeld School of Textiles she went to Los Angeles as an exchange student. After two years she returned to Hamburg where she worked as a fashion editor for various women’s magazines.
In 1967, as a 24-year-old, she opened a fashion boutique under the name Jil Sander in the neighbourhood of Pöseldorf in Hamburg. In the following year she founded the Jil Sander GmbH and from 1974 she began to sell her own collection in addition to fashion from other designers. When she presented her designs in Paris in 1975 they were not well received: Sander’s purist creations were simply not understood amidst the loud, opulent, and colourful trends of the time. Only in the beginning of the eighties, Jil Sander’s collections gained international acclaim, and became popular particular among successful businesswomen who liked being able to combine different high-quality pieces in various layers. During that time Sander was dubbed the “Queen of less”.
“JIL SANDER IS HOT, ARMANI NOT.”
Every luxurious fashion brand of course also needs a line of cosmetic products. Therefore Sander expanded her product range in 1978 and cooperated with cosmetics manufacturer Lancaster. The lucrative perfume license also helped her through the difficult early years of her fashion brand. We all know the iconic advert featuring Sander’s likeness for her scent and care product line Jil Sander Woman Pure. In 1989 the stock market launch followed, which made her company one of the first fashion firms at Frankfurt stock exchange. As a result, “Jil Sander” became one of the most successful brands of the nineties. When the company was sold to the Prada group in 1999, it caused a sensation in the industry, as Prada bought 75 per cent of Jil Sander AG’s equity shares and 15 per cent of the preference shares for an estimated 275 million Deutschmark. In April 2000, the name giver and founder left the company.
After a brief return as head designer in 2003, she gave up the position again in 2004. The Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons is considered her best-known successor. After five years of fashion world abstinence, Sander started to work for the Japanese fashion label UNIQLO in 2009 and developed the design line +J. In the end of 2011 she left the company. On February 28 2012, she once more became creative director of her former label, that meanwhile had been acquired by a Japanese corporation when Prada had sold it in 2006. In October 2012 Sander left again. Today Rodolfo Paglialunga is head designer of the label, while Sander has been preparing for her first museum exhibition since 2016.
In the beginning of the nineties, fashion became more androgynous and subtle, and Sander’s hour had come: Her brand flourished. In the eighties Sander’s minimalist style was ten years ahead of fashion. “Jil Sander is hot, Armani not” – this saying circulated in Milan after the designer had send fairy-like supermodels on the catwalk. The sales of the company increased steadily; the launch of a male line, that soon contributed respectable 20 per cent of revenue, followed in 1997.
Jil Sander’s fashion possesses various signature items that give it a high recognition value despite its purist looks: First of all, the figure accentuating trouser suit, then a simple trenchcoat or camel coat; and of course also the simple white blouse. Unnecessary details are cut out, as the famous Sander quote indicates: “The purest form of luxury is reduction. A piece of clothing is perfect when nothing else can be removed.”
The quality of the materials was – at least under the aegis of Sander – uniquely high and kept exclusively in the tones black, grey, white, beige, brown, and dark blue. No loud colours made the eye restless. She managed to take fashion from Dior’s female silhouette to functional and elegant clothes for career women and thus expanded the spectrum of female fashion. She identifies herself with the aesthetics of the Bauhaus tradition and prises in her reduced fashion “clever designs that give the wearer dynamic and space to move”. We consider that worthy of a museum exhibition!