MILAN — Just over a year after her return to the fashion fold, Jil Sander has learned something surprising about herself: She’s not that different from her former nemesis, Prada chief executive officer Patrizio Bertelli.

“Maybe when I made the joint venture with Prada, I didn’t take the time to understand whom I was marrying,” she said in an exclusive interview at her company’s immaculately white offices here, exuding a relaxed and calm aura despite speaking to WWD between fittings and last-minute touches on the collection she’s showing today. She is tight-lipped on the details, except to say that it’s “very cool and like a breeze.” Word has it that hand-tooled prints are key looks.

“The more we work together, the more we realize that we are similar,” she said of Bertelli. “We are both entrepreneurs. We understand how to respect one another,” she said of a relationship that still generates the occasional whisper about the inevitable frictions between two strong-willed people.

Instead, Sander seems most preoccupied with growing her brand — and she’s full of ideas how to do it. The designer is intent on expanding the group’s accessories business, but she also has plans to roll out a new fragrance next spring and open stores in locations ranging from Manhasset, N.Y., to Bangkok. But she wants to do it her own way.

“I follow my vision, I follow what I feel and hopefully I will have followers,” Sander said. “I’m not worried about growth. I’m worried about doing it right.”

While the fashion world pondered just how easy it would be for Sander to return after a three-year hiatus, the designer said she has been working steadily, either on the product or her stores, bringing everything back to her vision after Milan Vukmirovic’s uneven stint as creative director in her absence. She said she was ready for the challenge because it’s just part of fashion to reflect the changing times. Of course, her absence from fashion directly coincided with events that radically altered the world — from Sept. 11, wars and economic slowdowns to the rapid growth of technology and consumer choice.

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