Once upon a time, Jil Sander’s commercial collection held an almost mythic mystery for editorial types. Invariably, after she had presented one of her tight, oh-so-spare and artsy collections — in which those in the know could recognize the distinct hand of her stylist, Joe McKenna — swooning editors would query each other, “Have you been to Hamburg? They say her commercial collection is the size of a football field.” It was reputed to be a vast lineup supposedly lean on Kawakubo-style kudos, but flush with the lush near-classics that had made Sander a rock star to her rich, discretion-craving fans.
Everybody knows that many fashion houses thus supplement their runway processions with additional pieces or full-on commercial lineups, those more approachable clothes for less-adventurous clients. But until Friday night, no one had spelled it all out explicitly on the runway. Enter Jil Sander’s current designer, the gutsy Raf Simons. In effect, he showed two completely different collections, one inspired by Sander herself, and the other, by the bold, color-infused curvature of ceramist Pol Chambost.
The Sander section was all tony cashmere simplicity: starkly unfettered coats in delectable noncolors — white, gray, black, camel — over equally plain dresses and trousers. They made for the most luxurious of basics. Only a single red sheath and little flats, demure but for their vibrant hues, hinted at Act II.
Cue the multicolored club lights, and the Chambost brigade moved in. The way in which Simons translated the artist’s sculptural vocabulary and color-inside-black palette was nothing short of remarkable, making for some beautiful clothes. While the earlier section featured linear cuts, here curves ruled, with Simons focused on stiffened shapes that echoed those of his recent men’s collection. A white coat flashed a slope of red at the neck; a black dress was worn with trumpet gauntlets that blazed caution yellow from within. Elsewhere, an asymmetric arc formed a dramatic half-peplum on an orange dress; the neckline of a sheath shot into bold points on one side, and, in perhaps his most intriguing technical motif, Simons cut sleeves rounded in back to fit like puzzle pieces into the curves of hourglass coats and jackets.
All of that said, the show had its issues. Some of the evening pieces felt familiar, like modernist retro. Nothing wrong with that per se, except that the overall mood of high-minded fashion intellectualism didn’t exactly jibe with the vague references to Fifties and Eighties cocktail. But in departing significantly from current notions of the one-note editorial collection, Simons played bold provocateur at a time when many in the industry wonder if the show system needs a shake-up.