Let other designers dabble in the so-called “new minimalism” thatswung back into fashion over the past year.On a mission to free and expand the JilSander universe, Raf Simons ﬂung openyet another window of possibility—andelectriﬁed the Milan season—by invokingthe grandeur of couture.
“It almost challenged me to do the opposite,to do the idea of maximalism,” Simons saysgleefully from Sander’s Milan headquarters.
It’s plain from his excited tone that theBelgian designer was energized to tackle anopulent fashion universe that is Mars to hisVenus. One can only imagine the reaction ofhis design team when he mentioned amongreferences for the spring collection Elisabethof Bavaria, the iconic royal popularly knownas Sisi and synonymous with extravagantstyle, up to and including, on occasion,diamonds brooches in her hair.
“People think of dresses made of 27 metersof fabric weighing 35 kilograms [77 pounds]—and with a corset inside,” he says with a chuckle.“But sometimes you have to say somethingreally extreme to make yourself clear.”
While some observers detected nods to YvesSaint Laurent—which were rife on runwaysin every fashion capital—Simons notes he didnot attend the YSL retrospective that woundup at the Petit Palais in Paris last August and iscredited for spurring a fashion revival.
“I was looking more at certain pieces fromGivenchy,” Simons says, citing a fascinationwith Sixties-era couture in general. “I wasinterested in going to a very different kindof proportion and shape for a house like JilSander, which has really never done longlengths and big volumes.”
While some designers have been usingminimalism as a jumping-off point, Simonsprefers to take a far-ﬂung aesthetic or conceptand then, as he puts it, “pure it out.”
“I ﬁnd it very beautiful this idea of pure-ing things out,” he says. “I don’t think it needsto start from a pure idea or a pure concept.You cannot pure-out from nothing!”
Simons took the dramatic silhouettes ofcouture—the bulbous skirts, infanta gowns,elephant pants and peplum jackets—andrendered them “light and loose” in simplefabrics like cotton, taming them further bymixing in T-shirts, parkas and rainwear. “Forme, it was very much about avoiding excess,which is so present in couture,” he says.
And then he ignited it all with searingcolor, worn in arresting combinations andpileups. Here, Simons allows that he waspaying homage to the late Saint Laurent,describing him as one of fashion’s mostinspired colorists. Indeed, the spring Sandermen’s collection, paraded last June in aspectacular Tuscan garden during the PittiUomo trade fair, was all about intense color,an idea he decided to carry over into thewomen’s line. “That’s what’s going to make itchallenging and new because that’s what youreye is not used to,” he explains.
The collection certainly caught retailers’eyes, helping the company log a highsingle-digit increase in its spring orderbook, and double-digit gains among U.S.clients, who were particularly enamoredwith its sportswear approach, accordingto Alessandro Cremonesi, Sander’s chiefexecutive ofﬁcer. Long skirts and outerwearwere the top-booking items, he says.
“There is good momentum for the JilSander brand overall,” reports Cremonesi,adding the company posted an operatingproﬁt in its ﬁscal second-half, and is on track toremain in the black in ﬁscal 2011. He credits astrong product focus and improved deliveriesand efﬁciencies for the brightening picture.The company has been tracking solid gains inonline sales and is plotting retail expansion tomeet growing demand in the Far East.
Also, in late November, the companywill deliver its new lower-priced line, JilSander Navy, to about 300 doors worldwide.Cremonesi says it’s on track to lift companyrevenues by about 30 percent.
Simons notes, however, that he is “notinvolved” in the Navy project.
After ﬁve years at the design helm of theMilan-based fashion house following thesecond retirement of the house founder, Simonshas endured three ownership and managementchanges. He was recruited by Patrizio Bertelliwhen Sander was owned by Prada Group.In 2006, Sander was taken over by ChangeCapital Partners, a London-based privateequity fund, which in 2008 ﬂipped it to OnwardHoldings, the Tokyo-listed apparel group, andits European subsidiary Gibò Co. SpA.
Despite all the turmoil, Simons says hesees as his mission challenging his audiencewith new and unexpected ideas, while alsofocusing increasingly on the garments andend customers. “I want to see these clothessucceeding,” he says. “Jil Sander is a veryinteresting environment because it’s still acompany that sells a lot of ready-to-wear.”He says it’s essential to “make a link to awoman wearing garments today, on thestreet or at home.”
Simons expresses relief that the lastdecade in fashion, largely deﬁned by cocktaildresses and ridiculously high-heeled shoes,is hopefully yielding to something more relaxed, a direction he fully endorses. “Me,personally, the idea of a cocktail dress is notconnected with the idea of ease,” he says.
Still, Simons likes to push the creativeenvelope—and his runway shows are designedto surprise, given his wide-screen view he’sadopted for the Jil Sander brand. “It creates adialogue and a reaction,” he explains. “Fashionpeople want to see fashion change all thetime.…If all fashion shows looked like decentpre-collections, how long would it last?”
Despite his reputation as one of fashion’sdeepest thinkers, Simons stresses, “I’m not atall somebody who sits isolated in the cornerthrowing sketches.”
On the contrary, “I wanted to becomea fashion designer because I think it’s oneof the creative jobs you can’t do alone,” saysthe 42-year-old, who founded his signaturemen’s wear label 15 years ago, taking onwomen’s wear only when he joined Sander.“From the second you start, you’re alreadycollaborating, with people who make fabrics,with people who make patterns. That’s whatmakes it interesting.”
Simons also continues to glean energyfrom the vibrant contemporary art scene, andrecently spent several days combing the FriezeArt Fair in London in lieu of a vacation. “Ilike to see this creativity of other people,” hesays, mentioning Simon Fujiwara among hisrecent discoveries, and Los Angeles-basedStewart Ruby as a running favorite. Indicativeof how much the designer’s art ﬁxation andfashion career collide, he tapped Ruby toenvision the Raf Simons boutique in Tokyothat opened in 2008.
The designer’s ears are also alert fornew sensations, the latest being songs by anelectro rock band called Goose that turnsout to be Belgian, also. Simons, famous forstreet casting in his early days, also realizedthe lead singer, Mickael Karkousse, modeledin the ﬁrst three shows for his signaturemen’s brand. Indeed, in the band’s ofﬁcialbio, Karkousse cites Simons as a formativeinﬂuence, as he discovered the music ofelectronic pioneers Kraftwerk at a Simonsshow at the Moulin Rouge in Paris. Simonsmuses, “I should get in touch with him.”
@fearofgod and @maxfieldla have teamed up on a pop-up installation. The store, located in the gallery space across from Maxfield’s Melrose Ave location, is the site of the brand’s House of God pop-up in which Fear of God founder @jerrylorenzo has created a church-inspired installation. A dozen vintage church pews sit in front of an LED screen playing 90s gospel singers in an effort to re-create an environment akin to a Southern Baptist Church, Lorenzo explained. Read more about the pop-up on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: Jennifer Johnson)
Known for his sleek, sophisticated American glamour, Norman Norell is the subject of an upcoming exhibition at @fitnyc. “Norell: Dean of American Fashion,” which runs from February 9 through April 14, will feature approximately 100 ensembles and accessories. His best work is exemplified by the designer’s glittering “mermaid” gowns frosted with thousands of hand-sewn sequins – like the one pictured. (📷: William Helburn) #wwdfashion
For pre-fall 2018, @balmain didn’t let go of the glitz. A crystal embroidered baseball jacket priced at around $40,000 hangs in the “couture” section of the brand’s first men’s pre-collection. Sporting the words “Balmain Army” across the back, the item took around two months to make. “When it was completed, it was like Christmas, it was like, ‘It’s done, it’s exactly what I wanted,’” said Balmain’s creative director @olivier_rousteing during a tour of the collection in a Paris showroom on Monday. #wwdfashion
Eighty degree temperatures and outdoor installations at the annual Art Basel Miami Beach called for bright, elevated beachwear. See more street style pictures on WWD.com. #theyarewearing #ABMB (📷: @lifeinreverie)
Following September’s emotional tribute to her brother Gianni, Donatella Versace wanted to bring the spring show’s deep sense of intimacy to her @versace_official pre-fall collection. Donatella found inspiration in Versace Palazzo in Milan and from Gianni’s opulent apartment. Archival patterns and new motifs were splashed on silk shirtdresses and fitted jersey frocks. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com. #wwdfashion
Demna Gvasalia continues to shake up the Paris fashion calendar — and experiment with new runway timetables for his @vetements_official brand. WWD has learned that Vetements plans to stage its next coed show for the fall 2018 season on January 19 during Men’s Fashion Week in the French capital. Details about the timing and venue have not been confirmed — stay tuned on WWD.com to catch the latest. #wwdnews (📷: @giovanni_giannoni_photo)
@zacposen's go-to holiday gift? Cookies! "I'll usually bake cookies and send them as a gift," said the designer, who recently released his cookbook "Cooking With Zac: Recipes from Rustic to Refined." Get the recipe for his Brown Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookies via link in bio 🍪🍪🍪 #wwdeye #cookingwithzac
For @monsemaison’s pre-fall 2018 collection, Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim honed in on the brand’s many signatures — men’s wear, which was tweaked and feminized through deconstruction, proportion play and lots of bare shoulders. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: George Chinese)
On Friday night, @yohjiyamamotoofficial received the Design for Asia Lifetime Achievement Award in Hong Kong. The 75-year-old designer has been celebrated for many years and is best known for his dark and avant-garde tailoring. “In my long career, in design, architecture, [I’ve been to] so many parties, this is the very first time that I have such a warm feeling, I really appreciate this,” Yamamoto said. #wwdfashion (📷: @dominiquemaitre)