MILAN — A strong personal connection, as well as a solid, trusting husband-and-wife relationship, lie behind the arrival of Luke and Lucie Meier at Jil Sander.
In an exclusive interview, the fashion house’s chief executive officer Alessandra Bettari confirmed the appointment of the Meiers as co-creative directors of the brand, succeeding Rodolfo Paglialunga, who exited in March. WWD was the first to report on Jan. 11 that the married couple was expected to be named Jil Sander’s new designers.
They already are making changes: The Meiers will work together on both the men’s and women’s collections and they are embracing the coed show format, starting with the pre-collection.
Luke Meier is the cofounder and designer of men’s label OAMC and he will continue to also design that brand. His wife worked in the design studios of Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton earlier in her career and then headed, along with Serge Ruffieux, the spring and fall ready-to-wear and couture studios, respectively, under Raf Simons at Dior before stepping into the spotlight between the exit of the couturier and the arrival of his successor, Maria Grazia Chiuri. This is the first time the married designers have worked together, however.
WWD sat down with the Meiers and Bettari for an interview at Jil Sander’s headquarters in Milan, during which the designers discussed their new roles, their visions for the brand — and their immense respect for the house’s founder.
WWD: How did your personal and working relationship start and how did it evolve into this agreement with Jil Sander?
Luke Meier: We met each other at [Florence fashion school] Polimoda, and we’ve been together ever since then. We’ve both had different jobs, lived apart, Lucie lived in Paris, I was in New York. We talked about working together but we didn’t have a big plan of how it would really manifest, it just kind of happened. It felt like the right idea and the right opportunity.
WWD: What does Jil Sander stand for in your opinion and why did you think it was a good fit for you?
Lucie Meier: There was a very strong personal connection. I grew up in Switzerland, in Zermatt, in the mountains, far away from fashion. My mother is a big Jil Sander fan, those were the only designer clothes she would buy. She didn’t have much need [for them] in the mountains, it was her secret passion, but she absolutely loved Jil Sander clothes. That was my introduction to fashion; I was not much in contact with fashion there [laughs]. She would dress superchic in Jil Sander clothes and I liked their impact, how they would transform her. To go to the store, it was such an emotional experience. I was captivated and it’s the reason why I wanted to work in fashion. The impact was so strong, it was really fascinating to me. For me, it’s extremely important and influential and just really beautiful — perfection.
Luke Meier: It was a brand that I looked at especially when I was living in New York in the mid-Nineties. At that moment, there were a few brands that were quite powerful, and I saw Jil Sander as very, very high level without being too visible, very elegant, very chic.
Lucie Meier: Very essential.
Luke Meier: Yes, you always felt you could go in and get something very beautiful, and the more I worked in fashion, I was very appreciative of the high level. That was a big draw. I liked the perspective of breaking a little bit away from the standard idea of what a men’s wardrobe and a women’s should be. She was one of the first to jump across boundaries. I wouldn’t say she was revolutionary but very powerful and that perspective attracted me a lot. I am originally from the west coast of Canada, and there are sets of rules there. Ms. Sander’s approach was to break a lot of rules. I found that very appealing. We want to work on both collections simultaneously and we want there to be a strong dialogue between men’s and women’s, one voice and one perspective.
Lucie Meier: It totally makes sense.
WWD: Will you show during men’s or women’s fashion weeks?
Lucie Meier: During women’s.
Alessandra Bettari: The first time will actually be in June, with both pre-collections. That’s what makes it really interesting, the fact that it’s a merger of the two, there is no definite split, it’s a cross-pollination of ideas.
WWD: Could you give us an idea of what’s ahead in terms of design?
Lucie Meier: For sure we are not going to ignore [designer] Jil Sander but we have to bring our own take. What that is exactly I can’t tell you yet [smiling].
A.B.: There is an intimate connection with the brand and there is almost a natural, organic understanding of it. [The Meiers went] back to the archives, there is intelligence in research, what’s in the history of the brand. It’s almost as if it’s in the bones, you can feel it from what I’ve seen from sketches, the choice of materials. There will be a big element of surprise and that’s the secret — an element of discovery, but surely without aggression or drastic disruption.
Luke Meier: We are not imagining other people. We are taking it from a very personal perspective; we want to create things we like and wear a lot. We’ve also been clients for a long time. We’ve been buying pieces. I think it’s something that we can honestly design from a place that’s very close to us rather than imagining something we don’t relate to.
Lucie Meier: We love the brand, its imagery is so strong, we don’t have to pretend.
A.B.: I want to tell you this: One of the things I asked [early on] was about a collaboration with a partner. The first thing Luke asked me was, “What do you think Jil would say about this? Whether it’s commercial or whatever plan, would she actually do it?” So I said maybe not [laughing]. It was immediate, so obvious.
WWD: How do you plan to evolve the brand? What changes do you have in mind?
Luke Meier: We will be very respectful. We did not have to learn about [the brand], we knew it. It will be our perspective about it, but it will be there for sure.
Lucie Meier: We want it to be so relevant today as it was. Functionality is key. It’s relevant today as it was when Jil Sander was designing. She was a working woman who had to run up and down the streets, being superelegant at the same time. I think today it’s more needed than ever.
Luke Meier: We care a lot about reality. The pieces live in the real world. It’s not only about image, it’s about honest clothes.
A.B.: Yes, clothes that work not only on skinny models but on all different body types.
WWD: Jil Sander was known for her luxurious fabrics and her passion for materials. What is your take on this?
Luke Meier: For both of us it’s very important, actually we’ve just worked on fabrics this past week. They are essential, it’s a link with the brand. We are looking at Japanese and Italian fabrics. We have the experience, we understand where we source fabrics, certain things are excellent in Italy and some in Japan, there’s a different touch and feeling, cotton and wool are very different whether they come from Japan or Italy, and it’s very different the way you can do things. Ms. Sander was one of the first to work with Japanese fabrics.
WWD to Alessandra Bettari: Why did you choose to work with Luke and Lucie Meier? What impressed you, what are their strengths and what will they bring to the brand?
A.B.: “It was fate. We went through a lot of meetings with several designers, obviously. It was interesting because I met Luke first. I didn’t know him personally, the presentation was clearly incredibly inspiring, then I got to meet Lucie. I could feel how the harmony between the two worked out, it was incredibly powerful. The reason the decision was taken was this immediate link. The intimacy with the brand was obvious, it was striking, a key aspect, important on both an emotional and conceptual level. Jil was a conceptual person; I had a very strong intuition that they both are so, too. Also, they are incredibly international, this is a big plus; I don’t know how many passports they have between the two. This helps, it’s required by the business today, it gives a broad perspective. There are problems, but they don’t see them. An issue, or a constraint is never seen as such. They make things interesting. They say, “We’ve never done it in two days, let’s try [laughing].” They are young, but there is a constructive approach to creativity.
WWD: What do you have in mind in terms of visual communication and store concept?
A.B.: We’ve just renewed our Berlin and Frankfurt stores with a new concept, and a couple in Japan, and we will continue to do so. We will evolve according to the new vision, but it will be organic.
WWD: Do you agree with the concept as it is?
Luke Meier: It’s a good beginning [smiling].
WWD: How is business? Could you give us Jil Sander’s sales volume?
A.B.: We never break down sales. Europe is the biggest market, with Germany a very big market, too, with [five] stores there and Japan is strong. We are seeing growth in our retail organization and the channel in March was up 29 percent. The reason we’ve seen this growth in the last six months is that we’ve taken this approach of listening, understanding what the market was looking for, observing what could be done better in terms of deliveries, for example. Also, we are working on one of our core assets, the atelier; we all believe it’s fundamental.
WWD (to Lucie Meier): Given your experience with couture, would you consider adding it to Jil Sander?
Luke Meier: Maybe in terms of personal service.
Lucie Meier: I have nothing against gowns, but there needs to be this link to reality. I think it’s essential. It’s a different customer from Dior. Never say never, it could be something like offering a service. There is a place for gowns, but they must be the right gowns to fit the Jil Sander lifestyle.
A.B.: [A couture experience] can help ready-to-wear, too.
WWD: What are your plans in the near term? We’ve reported that the Museum Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt and Jil Sander are currently planning the first solo exhibition worldwide of the German designer’s creative work starting in November.
A.B.: [Demurring from responding on the exhibit.] We are opening two stores in Japan, we are renewing our web site, which should be completed in June, to communicate the new direction with new stories, movies and fireworks [smiles]. We are working closely with Yoox [Net-a-porter Group] to make sure our e-store [powered by Yoox Net-a-porter Group] represents the full collection, and is not strictly commercial.
WWD: There are not that many married couples working together on the designs of an international fashion brand.
A.B.: One thing that is fascinating is how incredibly focused is their level of concentration. I thought creativity came with a short span of concentration, but not in their case. They are very disciplined.
Luke Meier: We are both very opinionated and have strong point of views, but we don’t fight that often.
Lucie Meier: We trust each other.
A.B.: They complement each other.
Luke Meier: Pisces and Virgo — a good combination.