MILAN — It looks as if Prada chief Patrizio Bertelli and Jil Sander have called it quits — probably for good.
Industry sources close to both camps said the two, who met in Hamburg last week, have failed to reach agreement about the possibility of working together again.
During the fall collections in Milan in February, speculation was widespread that Sander, who suddenly resigned as chief designer of the house in January after battling with Bertelli over budgets and strategy, might somehow reconcile with Bertelli. Not any more.
“It’s over, done, history,” said a source close to both. “The two are both headstrong and have different mentalities. Bertelli is an entrepreneur interested in moving his business forward. For Sander, business is a personal issue, a reflection of herself. She wants to control every aspect of her work, and is not as interested as Bertelli is in growing the business.”
A Prada spokeswoman declined comment. A Jil Sander spokeswoman also declined comment.
The source added that Bertelli wants Sander to return, and has given her until April 15 to make a final decision. However, those who know Sander well say there will be no reconciliation.
In another development, Jil Sander AG’s managing director Aurelio Giorgini has resigned.
Giorgini, who joined the company in 1998, will develop a business-to-business Internet site for fashion, design and textiles. He will be succeeded by a four-man management team that includes Bertelli.
On a lighter note, sources close to the company said sales of women’s ready-to-wear at Jil Sander were up 15 to 20 percent this season — the designer’s most spectacular sales season yet.
After Sander quit her post, a mere five months after the expansion-minded Bertelli bought a majority stake in the German fashion house, Sander had telephoned staff members and told them a solution would be found — and not to quit their jobs. Those encouraging phone calls stopped over a month ago, a member of Jil Sander’s staff told WWD.
As for the future, sources said Sander may already be working on new fashion projects, although she is said to have a three-year non-compete clause in her contract with Bertelli. Prada Group also has the rights to her name, sources pointed out.
Since Sander quit, it’s been no secret that Bertelli has been on the hunt for new designers, and that he was in talks earlier this year with Hedi Slimane and Hussein Chalayan. (Slimane has since resigned as men’s designer at Yves Saint Laurent and is in talks with Gucci Group about a line of his own.) One source said Bertelli may simply assemble a design team without any marquee talent. But he must move fast. Sander typically sells her pre-spring collection in July.
American retailers that carry Sander’s collection contacted by WWD said they have not received any communication from the company since the initial announcement of Sander’s resignation.
“We’re in the wait-and-see mode,” said Linda Dresner, who has stores in New York and Birmingham, Mich. “We are not surprised if it doesn’t work out … It’s not what we asked for; it’s what we’ve been given and we have to deal with it in a businesslike way.”
Prada has declined to comment on the future of Jil Sander AG with the exception of a statement from Bertelli last month. “The style and design sector will be reinforced with respect to the tradition and image of Jil Sander.”
“I wish I could play matchmaker somehow because in the best of all worlds, Jil Sander stays at Jil Sander,” said Jeffrey Kalinsky, owner of a Jil Sander store in Atlanta and Jeffrey stores in New York and Atlanta. “I’m surprised they haven’t been able to find a win-win situation.