Total clarity of vision and superb quality were the two elements that magnetized Jil Sander addicts for 20 years. They were back in full force at the beginning of Raf Simons' Fall show, demonstrating to all that the power of a spare double-faced cashmere coat over a simple turtleneck dress or a camel coat with narrow navy pants is undiminished. It was, quite deliberately, classic Sander, relying on nothing more than the visual beauty of spare proportions, perfectly tailored raised seams, covetable fabric, and a flat shoe—in a bright color to amp up the modernity. For a moment, it was a serene outbreak of sanity, when elevated design and purposeful fashion were, for once, walking in step. "This is Jil heritage," Simons said later. "I like it and it's always there, but sometimes we don't show it."
Yet beneath the calm and the promise there was an unspoken drama unfolding offstage—the homage to the label's founder was in a way the final act at the end of an era. The atelier in Hamburg—which has been working continuously to produce Sander's samples even after Jil departed—is set to close, dispersing the skilled workers who built the house product. There was no official announcement of this, but at the end of the show an emotional Simons brought out Sander's head of atelier, Christel Von Kiedrowski, to share his bow.
But before that happened, there was part two of the collection to take in: the segment in which Simons delivered his own vision for taking the brand forward. For a few seconds, the room fell into darkness, punctuated by colored flashing lights. Then he sent in clothes inspired by the mid-century French ceramicist Pol Chambost: shapes with sculptural curves; fold-back flanges; and spiraling, molded volumes. The Chambost references were in the glimpses of color—green, orange, yellow—flashing inside a funnel neck, a dipping hemline, or a peeled-away back view. As experiments in form, some looked awkward, literally vaselike, and seemingly not attuned to female figure or movement. Others, like the black dresses with flying points shooting off one shoulder, touched an elegance that could believably stand up at a cocktail party. In the broader context of fashion, it bore similarities to the work the likes of Roland Mouret and Nicolas Ghesquière have been doing, but it showed that Simons is ambitious to find his own way of designing for women. How hard he will find it to continue that degree of research without the resource of the Sander atelier remains to be seen. But with this collection he may have taught himself a lesson. If he can maintain the level of pragmatic clarity he demonstrated at the beginning, he will really keep his customers happy.