Since 1973, when Jil Sander—who had worked as a fashion editor and freelance designer in her native Germany—launched her line with a series of monochrome jackets and trousers, her name has been synonymous with minimalism. Early on, Sander mastered the basics (the perfect cashmere V-neck, the ultimate white shirt, the go-to pantsuit) and established a clientele that was fiercely loyal to her look: Verging on austere, it was always enlivened by intriguing cuts or experimental fabrics.
Born in 1943, Sander opened her first store in Hamburg in 1968 and began selling her own designs on the floor alongside major French labels. Famously private, she developed a reputation over the years as a perfectionist who needed to control the minutiae of her company, even dictating where sales personnel should stand in the boutiques.
That perfectionism, perhaps, partly accounts for her fashion firm being one of the most successful ever to emerge from Germany. Sander branched out into cosmetics and fragrance (with huge success) in 1979. In 1989, perfectly poised to ride the nineties wave of minimalism also exemplified by the Austrian Helmut Lang, she took the company public. Menswear was added in 1997.
In 2000, however, Sander sold her label to Prada in hopes, she said, of expanding her shoe and accessories businesses. But—perhaps unsurprisingly—she and Prada chief Patrizio Bertelli clashed, and Sander left after only four months. Then, in a turnaround that stunned the fashion world, she returned to the runway (under Prada's watch) in 2003; three highly successful collections later, she again departed, citing irreconcilable differences with Bertelli over the brand's financial future.
In 2005, the Belgian designer Raf Simons was appointed creative director, while Sander moved on to work at Uniqlo. Simons presented his first men's and women's collections for Fall 2006, staying true to the brand's core values and making the show a must-see on the Milan fashion week calendar until Jil Sander returned to the label as creative director in February 2012.
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