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Jil Sander: The Queen of “Less”!

“Q&A With Rodolfo Paglialunga, the New Designer of Jil Sander…” & “Rodolfo Paglialunga, who made his début Saturday as creative director at Jil Sander…” The News headlines in September, 2014 screamed!

So, at last, Jil Sander, which was like an orphan in the fashion world, got a seasoned lead designer who got some stuff. I’m sure those who are in the fashion world business feel relieved after hearing this news.

Jil Sander label can be a classic specimen for the likes of us who follow the goings-on in the fashion world for different reasons. Jil Sander is a fantastic brand and stood the test of times all along. However, it could have been a far better brand dominating the fashion markets had it been managed in a different way.

I talked about the Prada Brand and the heavyweights behind the success of Prada — Ms Muiccia Prada and Mr Patrizion Bertelli. And in my article on Patrizion Bertelli, the Guardian Angel of Prada, I supported Bertelli for being a hard taskmaster, and there are experts who compared him with Caesar of the ancient Roman Empire not only for his aquiline nose but also for his heavy-handedness in running the Prada fashion brand.

A leopard can’t change its spots, and neither can a leopardess. In our case, the leopard being Patrizion Bertelli of Prada brand and the leopardess being Jil Sander of Jil Sander label!

Jil Sander of Jil Sander:

Jil Sander, born Heidermarie Jiline Sander in 1943 in Wesselburen, Germany, is a fashion designer. She founded Jil Sander fashion house in Hamburg, Germany in 1968. She launched her first women’s wear in 1973 and men’s wear in 1997. With the help of retailer Linda Dresner, New York and Joan Burstein, London, she entered the American and British markets successfully. She had enjoyed great following in 1980s and 1990s. She was famed as a minimalist designer with her simplistic yet realistic designs. In those days, if a lady wanted to look like a Woman of Substance, she got to wear Jil Sander’.

As is the norm in a fashion Brand’s life-cycle, Jil Sander brand also has womenswear, menswear, fragrance, eyewear, Jil bag, Jil Sander Leather, Jil Sander Cosmetics, underwear, socks and ties, and online stores, each one bringing in as much revenue as the other one.

Jil Sander’s financial statements showed a promising growth in the business: in the mid 1990s, $ 111 million of sales were recorded only with fashion, excluding license fees. Ms Sander did not lack entrepreneurship. Sander’s determination to expand her brand in North America showed that she was doing very well in Europe. To gain a strong foot-hold in the Americas and ever-successful Italian market, she established a separate division, and set up several franchise stores to cover the growing Asian market. She had her stores in London, Long Island, Zurich, Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, etc., designed in the same standards as that of her flagship store in Paris.

Ms Sander handled her business herself: she designed, chose fabric and controlled the quality of her finished goods; supervised the marketing like a hawk, directed the outlays of her stores; imposed strict codes of conduct on the salespersons in her stores and boutiques. (Ring any bells? Yes, Bertelli of Prada has enjoyed the same notoriety.)

People showered her with such praises as ‘temple of discipline and rigor in contemporary fashion‘; ‘it was precision that defined Jil Sander’s work’; and ‘she who can do perfection with her eyes closed’. The most reputed models like Kinga Rajzak wore Jil Sander for the cover of Vogue Russia. She was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz, officially called the ‘Verdienstorden der Bundesrepublik Deutschland‘, meaning the ‘Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany’, for her achievements in the fashion industry.

The Start of “Blow Hot, Blow Cold” Relationship:

In 1999, Prada Group bought a 75% share of Jil Sander brand. Ms Sander held the chief creative designer position and was the chairwoman in the new joint venture. However, in January 2000, Sander resigned as the chairwoman and chief creative designer, along with several of her staff, as a result of some “misunderstandings” with Patrizio Bertelli, the CEO of Prada Group, and left Prada (for the first time).

In 2001, it was reported that Jil Sander division of Prada Group seen a net loss of $9.5 million and $30.5 million in 2002, for ‘different’ reasons. It was rumored that Bertelli, who was heard saying that a brand as strong as Jil Sander did not need to depend on the name of a single designer when Jil left, struck a compromise with Ms Sander, offering her a six-year contract with a huge stake in the company profits and a seat on Prada’s strategic committee. And Jil lead her namesake label again in 2003! However, the honeymoon did not last long, Ms Jil Sander left Prada in 2004 (for the second time).

The Back-fired Side Deal:


In March 2009, Jil Sander announced her new fashion consultancy, first client being Fast Retailing of Japan with its Uniqlo label. In this joint venture, they created a collection called +J with its minimalist aesthetic and modest and reserved colors. However, after three years of successful running and, amid huge plans to expand the +J label, Jil Sander and Fast Retailing broke off, discarding the +J collection. (Not so surprising?)

The Opposite Poles Attract… again:

Jil Sander returned to her namesake fashion group in February 2012, replacing the then creative director, Raf Simons, and on the spur of an undefined moment, she left it again in October 2013 (for the third time).

Though the split was said to be amicable and mutually beneficial, the damage had been done and the issue had been criticised openly in the tabloids and fashion magazines. Where was the discipline? What happened to the commitment? Where did the business ethics go? What value was given to the ardent fans of Jil Sander and Prada? Who made fools of whom?

What Do ‘They’ Think of All This Melodrama:

Cathy Horyn, in Fashion & Style, The New York Times Oct 24, 2013, wrote that companies without visionary management and invested designers had little hope of surviving, and regarding Jil, she wrote: Ms Sander should do only what pleased her and what she could control 100%, and that she deserved no less.

One of Ms Jil Sander’s fans commented that Ms Sander’s leaving Prada was understandable as ‘SHE HAD BEEN THE BOSS‘! She added that Jil should never have sold her company to Patrizio Bertelli of Prada, who had been the ‘BOSS’ in his august self, in the first place; however, she concluded that it was quite difficult for some brands to overcome the temptation of being a part of an industrial giant in those days.

Tancrede de Lalun, general merchandise manager of apparel at Printemps in Paris, opined in her 2013 article that frequent changes in ownership and designer would create bad reputation for a brand as any change would take minimum two years to filter through to the customers; and also that as fashion industry worked on a long-term basis, having short-term turbulence would not help that long-term viability of a clothing brand and the loyalty of its customers.

Courtney Lynne, a research analyst, shared her views by saying that Ms Jil Sander admitted her “stubborn character” while explaining why she notoriously returned to simple lines in cut and a highly sophisticated choice in fabric.

John Koblin, declared in his article for the New York Times, On the Runway, in September, 2014, that Jil Sander line had been through plenty of “discard” (because it suffered frequent changes).

Mash Bonigala

Mash B. is the Founder & Creative Director of Logo Design Works. Since 1998, Mash has helped thousands of businesses express their brand messages through creative and award winning logo designs.