Axel Keller

MILAN — Jil Sander has a new chief executive officer.

The brand’s parent Onward Luxury Group has promoted Axel Keller from the role of commercial director. Keller joined Jil Sander in February from Balenciaga, where he was commercial director for 15 years.

In his new role, Keller succeeds Alessandra Bettari, who was appointed ceo of Jil Sander in 2016. Bettari will remain in the group as vice president of OLG and she will report to Takehiro Shiraishi, who succeeded Franco Penè as the company’s president. Penè holds the role of OLG honorary chairman.

“These changes actually are an evidence of the desire to grow both the Jil Sander brand and the whole group, which is constantly evolving,” said Bettari, who before joining Jil Sander was ceo of Valextra and covered executive roles at Joseph, Fendi Japan and Furla Japan. “The decision of Franco Penè to take a step back marked a huge milestone for the group and the fact that they hired three people to replace him is a signal of a strategy focused on expansion.”

Jil Sander is definitely the jewel in the crown of OLG, which is under the umbrella of Japanese fashion conglomerate Onward Holdings Co. Ltd., also controlling the OLG ready-to-wear division, formerly known as Gibò, as well as the OLG Shoes division, previously Iris. Along with Jil Sander, OLG operates the Charlotte Olympia and La Maison Moreau brands, while it has an investment in OAMC, the label cofounded by Luke Meier, Jil Sander’s creative director together with his wife Lucie Meier.

Along with managing and distributing labels, OLG also is a majority stakeholder in several manufacturing companies, such as knitwear specialist Erika, as well as Frassinetti and Freeland, which produce leather goods and sport shoes, respectively.

The new Jil Sander flagship in Tokyo

The new Jil Sander flagship in Tokyo.  Nacasa & Partners inc.

Repositioning and expanding Jil Sander is the main focus of OLG, which acquired the brand in 2008 from private equity firm Change Capital Partners LLP for an equity value of 167 million euros.

“The brand has a beautiful past and that was kind of unexpressed in the last few years,” said Keller. “I think that under the creative direction of Lucie and Luke we are repositioning the label and clearly expressing the vision behind it. For sure, now we have to work on visibility and we have to focus on increasing the presence of the brand.”

To reach these goals, Jil Sander is banking on wholesale — the company recently debuted corners at prestigious department stores, including Galeries Lafayette in Paris and Selfridges in London — as well as on its retail channel. At the end of last month, the fashion house unveiled its new store concept at the brand’s flagship located on Tokyo’s Omotesando high-end district.

Spanning 2,200 square feet, the store reveals an essential, pure yet warm architectural approach, and the blueprint was developed by the Meiers in collaboration with British architect John Pawson. Focused on natural materials presented in their original colors, the flagship shows a limestone floor, walls covered with a combination of cherry wood and lime, as well as wood shelves punctuated by marble details and seats covered with linen.

According to Keller, the new concept will be used to refurbish the brand’s stores in the next years, including units in Paris, and will be used in the new locations, such as a shop in Moscow, which is expected to be open in 2019.

Backstage at Jil Sander RTW Spring 2019

Backstage at Jil Sander RTW Spring 2019  Delphine Achard/WWD

At the same time, Jil Sander will launch a new e-store at the end of next year, when the contract with current online business partner Yoox will expire.

“We will operate it in-house with a focus on omnichannel and flexibility,” said Keller, who also pointed out that the company is working on expanding its product offering with a push on footwear and bags. “The final goal is delivering a full universe.”

Japan and Germany continue to be Jil Sander’s biggest markets, but “we aim to balance the brand’s global distribution and boost the Jil Sander presence especially in the United States and Europe.”

Jil Sander operates 11 stores, including units in Berlin, Milan, Paris, Zurich, New York and Chicago.

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