Celebrated fashion designer Jil Sander gets an overdue retrospective at Frankfurt’s Museum Angewandte Kunst, writes STEPHEN SHORT
ONE OF THE most influential, off-the-radar, pre-emptive fashion designers of her generation,
Jil Sander’s significance is due to an extraordinary perceptivity that enabled her to anticipate trends and societal changes. Founded in Hamburg, Germany in 1968, her eponymous label sold a 75 per cent stake to the Prada Group in 1999 – only for her to quit her own house the following year after disputes with Prada CEO Patrizio Bertelli, Miuccia Prada’s husband. Sander was subsequently lured back twice – from 2003 to 2004, and from 2012 to 2013, respectively replaced by Milan Vukmirovic and Raf Simons during those interim periods – by the second time she returned, the company was (and remains) in the hands of Japanese investment group Onward Holdings. Ultimately, she quit the brand for good to design collections for Uniqlo.
The simple fact of fashion’s fast-moving and fickle fiefdoms is that the German-born Sander, now 74 years old, was the proto-Miuccia; her silhouette was worshipped by the creative set.
The woman who wore Jil Sander was cool, contemporary, clean and clever. She could also be a businesswoman. And she wore Jil Sander; it didn’t wear her. To some the label was austere and angular with male characteristics, almost anti-fashion, lacking Miuccia’s later sensitivity and the feminine edge. But that was part of its cachet. Sander has had a knack for developing unexpected, modern shapes in fashion, and her purism has transformed our notions of beauty and identity. Her core design principles – harmony of proportion, sophisticated three-dimensionality, understatement and dynamic elegance – have always remained the same. And yet, she has presented the fundamentals of her aesthetics in each of her collections in completely new ways.
We’re reminded of all this by a major retrospective, Jil Sander: Present Tense, currently showing at the Museum Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt until May 6. The first exhibition of her work in a 50-year career is a multimedia spectacle, combining architecture, colour, light, film, sound, text, photography, fashion and art in dynamic spatial compositions. As such, the exhibition is less a retrospective overview than it is a fresh interpretation of the Jil Sander spirit and its aesthetics – which is all very fitting, given her career-long predilection for being so forward-looking. museumangewandtekunst.de/en