15.07.2015 - Anna von Stackelberg


Jil Sander


Born out of a perceived lack of suitable clothing for the modern woman, Jil Sander founded her label in 1967 in her native Hamburg. At the tender age of 24 and fresh out of her degree in textile design, Sander embarked upon her quest to craft practical and yet exquisite clothing in an industry that she perceived as dressing women “in various clichés from the past”.  Building upon a German tradition of craftsmanship and a love for state-of-the-art fabric, Jil Sander’s approach to womenswear accompanied the changing notions of femininity that defined the late 70’s and 80’s. As more women than ever before were reaching previously unimaginable professional heights, Sander’s collections featured a new minimalist, strict, elegant and business-appropriate style that enabled women to work equally alongside men. Once asked about her approach, Sander states that she “grasped that you must be contemporary, that you must think of the future”.


Her clean, sharp style, exemplified by her trademark scrupulously cut trouser suit paired with a precise blouse and a fitted coat, stood in stark contrast to the glitzy and opulent designs that made up the core of the fashion industry in the 1970’s. Her minimalist approach to form and somber pallet, that defined the label from the beginning, stood out so much, that her first show in Paris in 1975 was a complete flop. True to her vision of emancipating the female wardrobe however, Sander powered on. Relying on workmanship and exquisite fabrics (Sander was one of the first to bring highly expensive Japanese fabrics to Europe), she slowly but surely conquered the wardrobes of her compatriots. By the early 80’s her sleek and quietly luxurious style had gained a cult following. By the 90’s minimalism had become the norm.


Defining for the Jil Sander Style was however not only the purist vision. She also created a concept in which all parts within one collection could be layered and combined with each other. This signature aesthetic would become known as the Onion- or Zwiebel-Look, referencing the many layers of an onion as inspiration. She attributes particularly the versatility and combinability of her collections as a key element to the label’s success. And a huge success it was. From one boutique in Hamburg to a multi million dollar company, Sander was able to float her company on the Frankfurt stock exchange in 1989. In 1999 the label was worth $200m and had, as she proudly says, had “zero debts”.  


But change was in the air. As was the trend at the time, in which mergers and acquisitions were the order of the day, Prada Group acquired a majority share of the label in 2000, leading to Sander’s abrupt departure six months later, citing differences with Prada CEO Bertelli, Miuccia Prada’s husband. In her stead Milan Vukmirovic, who had previously designed for Colette and Gucci, was installed as chief designer, but failed to uphold the streamlined cleanliness that Jil Sander had executed. For 2001, the Jil Sander Group reported a net loss of $9.4 million - its first ever. Trying to ward off disaster, Prada asked Sander back in 2003. But only four seasons later Sander was to depart again, citing continuing differences with Bertelli. 


In 2005, Raf Simons took over the helm of the company, managing to successfully maintain the heritage of the label while adding his own touch in the form of appliqués and electric coloured outerwear. He also successfully expanded the brand to include eyewear, jewelry and lingerie as well as adding a  lower priced a diffusion-line in 2011. When Simons departed for Dior after seven successful years in 2012, Sander returned to head her house for the third time – only to leave yet again, this time for personal reasons, one year later. 

Since the fall of 2014 Rodolfo Paglialunga, himself a veteran of Vionnet and Prada, has been the new creative director of Jil Sander. He has made a very promising start. Paglialunga’s debut show in September 2014 was greeted by rapturous applause after his simple, androgynous looks came down the runway. It also seems promising that when asked about his approach to upholding the specific aesthetic of austere minimalism that defines the Sander style, his words seem reminiscent of Jil Sander and her concern to stay contemporary and future oriented.  He states “For me, when you talk about minimalism, that puts me in the ’90s. I’d like to talk about contemporary ways. Simplicity is minimalism, probably. Uniform is minimalism, probably. I work on simplicity.” It seems that the label is in good hands then to steer it onwards and upwards, and away from the danger of becoming a “cliché from the past”, the desire that gave the creative spark to the label’s existence in the first place.

Short Facts


A minimalist form, monochrome pallet, state-of-the art fabric and high-end tailoring are the defining signature of the brand.


Jil Sander created her aesthetic in reaction to a perceived lack of clothing for the modern, affluent, working woman. Valuing functionality as much as comfort and beauty, Sander created the distinct onion-look aesthetic, in which all pieces from within one collection could be combined with each other.

Designer History

1967 – 2000  Jil Sander

2000 – 2003  Milan Vukmirovic

2003 – 2004  Jil Sander

2005 – 2012  Raf Simons

2012 – 2013  Jil Sander

2014 – present  Rodolfo Paglialunga

Jil Sander's Fall Winter 2015 Show Atmosphere


1967 – First Boutique

Jil Sander opens her first boutique in Hamburg and launches her label. She began by selling other designers alongside her own creations.

1973 – The Start

The first Jil Sander collection is launched and sold in the Hamburg store.

1975 - First Run

Sander first catwalk collection in Paris is a failure.

1978 - Foundation

Jil Sander GmbH is founded

1979 - Collaboration

Sander launches a line of cosmetics and fragrances in alliance with the Lancaster Group.

1989 - Going Public

Sander floats her label on the Frankfurt Stock exchange, taking it public while retaining all voting rights and thus creative control of the company.

1993 - The Flagship

The flagship Jil Sander store in Paris at 52 Avenue Montaigne is opened

1994 - The Headquarters

Jil Sander S.p.A. is founded in Milan. This would later become the company’s headquarters.

1997 - Menswear

Launch of Jil Sander Menswear

1998 - Puma

Puma and Jil Sander launches a successful trainers collection

1999 - Prada Group

Sander sells a 75% majority share of the label to Prada Group. She remains as chairwoman and chief designer

2000 - Takeover

Sander leaves the label, citing differences with Prada CEO Patrizio Bertelli. Milan Vukmirovic, formerly designer at Gucci, takes over as Sander’s successor

2003 - The Return

Departure of Vukmirovic and return of Jil Sander as creative director and chief designer

2004 - Another Departure

Jil Sander leaves the label due to continuing differences with Prada CEO Bertelli.

2005 - A New Era

Raf Simons, the Belgian industrial designer becomes creative director

2006 - Charge Capital Partners

British Equity Fund Charge Capital Partners purchases Jil Sander from the Prada Group


2007 - Accessory Line

Simons launches a new Jil Sander accessories line

2008 - Alliances

Alliances with Daminai announced to make Jil Sander Jewelry, with Albisetti to make lingerie and beach wear and with Marchon to make Jil Sander sunglasses and eyewear.


2008 - The Purchase

Onward Holdings Co. Ltd. Purchases Jil Sander from Change Capital Partners 

2010 - Jil Sander Navy

Launch of Jil Sander Navy, a new, lower-priced diffusion line

2012 - Another Change

Raf Simons departs for Dior, Sander reinstated as creative director

2013 - The Abandonment

Jil Sander leaves the label citing personal reasons

2014 - The New Designer

Rodolfo Paglialunga, formerly designer at Prada and Vionnet, hired as creative director


© Imaxtree


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