MILAN — Lucie and Luke Meier are morning people. They look fresh and energetic when they make their entrance at 8:30 a.m. at the chic Marchesi coffee shop located inside Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
The holiday break is fast approaching and the married couple is fighting with deadlines to finally take a vacation before heading to Florence the second week of January. There they will unveil Jil Sander’s fall 2020 men’s collection with a runway show at Pitti Uomo on Jan. 8.
The couple, who took over the company’s creative direction in 2017, is developing a clear, focused vision for the brand by reworking its signature minimalism with a poetic, warm and very personal attitude, mainly conveyed through artisanal details and unique materials.
Enigmatic at first glance, the Meiers in time reveal that charming and witty personalities lie beneath their reserved and discreet attitude, which distances them from many of their colleagues, who eagerly foster media and social media exposure.
Over a warm cappuccino, an orange juice and a crispy ham and cheese toast — which they lovingly shared — the designers open up about their vision for the Jil Sander men’s line, their very personal connection with the city of Florence, the reason they don’t like to share too much before the show, as well as why working together has never been a problem for their relationship.
WWD: Who is the Jil Sander man for you? How is he developing season after season?
Luke Meier: In a way, we don’t really separate the man and the woman. I think that at the end of the day our process is quite personal, so obviously I can see myself wearing the men’s pieces. Indeed, I wear a lot of pieces myself just to understand how they work and we also don’t fixate so much on age either. I think it’s a lot about how the piece feels and a lot of people can relate to a certain shape or kind of idea we have in the collection really based on their feelings. In a way, I think we always focus on the search of a feeling rather than something too particular when it comes to an image.
Lucie Meier: We think of somebody who really makes conscious choices, somebody smart and educated, somebody who appreciates good materials, the right cuts, who has the sensibility to actually appreciate certain things. Because not everybody cares so much about these things.
Luke Meier: I think there is maybe also sensitivity. What we are trying to do is [create] an approach that you can apply to the men’s and women’s. It’s really about an uncompromised idea of materials, quality. So I think he is somebody who is interested in that, is sensitive to those things. Somebody who sees the rigor, who sees how we try to go into depth with everything.
WWD: Since you have such an organic vision of men’s and women’s wear, why do you choose to show the two collections separately?
Lucie Meier: Well, I think when the men’s is part of the women’s show, it tends to become an accessory of women’s wear. I think they both deserve their own moment, because it is not necessarily the same inspiration, they are not necessarily developed at the same time, but they can inspire one another. But I think they deserve their own space.
Luke Meier: In the end they are connected because we still do campaigns together, it’s really part of the same world, but I think it’s really important for us to give the men’s and the women’s their time for people to see individually. Also because I think that in the industry, men’s and women’s buying and editorial teams are still separated. When we showed together, there were still issues like, “Well, we are not going to have these people because they are not coming to Milan or Paris.” And it’s a shame to miss some people because they are stuck in a certain part of the business.
Lucie Meier: And also we don’t want to do a 100-look show. How much can you see?
WWD: Over the years, several designers told me that it’s much easier to telegraph a strong message on the catwalk with the women’s collections, especially because they have more options, more styles and sometimes the vibe of the girls is more engaging. Do you agree? Do you think the men’s show requires a bigger effort to be really powerful?
Luke Meier: I don’t think so. In a way, there is more subtlety because a small change in the shapes and volumes makes a bigger impact sometimes. Getting older maybe, I think you start appreciating these challenges a bit more because they kind of force you to be a bit more creative or to look at things in a more delicate way and a subtle change can have such a big impact. Men’s wear is actually quite appealing because you can really work with something that is subtle but still very powerful. You have the shapes, the fabrics, colors, and then you have the guys, the vibe they bring, the environment, the music….This is why I think shows are still important also in men’s wear because you can really create these feelings.
WWD: And you can go in depth, which is something you love to do.
Lucie Meier: There is still much you don’t actually see, the linings, the insides of the garments…there is a lot of work you don’t immediately see.
WWD: Even if you envision men’s and women’s in a similar way, is there a difference when it comes to the final customer?
Luke Meier: I think that what has been interesting in the men’s market, in general, in the last few years is that there are younger customers. And it’s the first time ever that younger guys are interested in fashion brands. That’s what makes me very excited about men’s wear. And male customers are investing more. Because with women’s wear there has been a very strong, deep market for a long time. Maybe younger women would know a lot of brands, but a lot of younger men have been [open to discovering labels recently]. There has always been a particular fashion customer in men’s wear, but I think it’s [expanding] more and more. It’s quite cool actually.
WWD: During the Pitti Uomo press conference in November, the organizers said Florence holds a special place in your heart because you met there.
Lucie Meier: Well, I was going to school at the Polimoda, studying fashion marketing, and Luke was there from New York basically for an exchange.
Luke Meier: I was at FIT in New York doing men’s wear and I wanted to focus on tailoring so I did an exchange at Polimoda. And we ended up renting rooms in the same house.
Lucie Meier: We didn’t know each other from school. We just happened to live in the same apartment.
Luke Meier: It was in 2001. I arrived on Sept. 7, 2001, and four days later all the stuff in New York happened. And it felt very strange because everything I knew in New York was going upside down.
Lucie Meier: It was really quiet, no tourists around, no one was traveling.
Luke Meier: Yes, it was really quiet, but I remember that Renato Ricci who was, I think, the director of the school at that time, gave a speech because there were other people from the U.S. from FIT and his speech was so elegant. He just chose some great words, and I remember that I was thinking, “Wow, this is like a really kind, warm environment.” And, Florence just feels like that when you arrive, so cozy. The thing I really remember the most of that time is that speech. I really loved coming to Florence, it was an amazing time.
WWD: So then you got together…and what happened?
Lucie Meier: I had just started in Florence — it was my first year, and Luke was actually in his last year. In the summer then we traveled together and I was going to New York for weekends and then I finished my second year and after that I moved to New York and I was working for Nylon magazine. But since pretty early in my first year at school I decided that I wanted to do design, so I was also trying to organize my next steps and was looking into schools. I actually decided to go to Paris because there was the only kind of school that teaches you technical aspects. I ended up going to Paris in September and I kept traveling to New York when I could. And every summer I interned in New York at Narciso Rodriguez, so we were able to see each other and Luke started working at Supreme. Actually he started before, in 1999, before he started FIT.
Luke Meier: I actually decided to go to FIT because in the U.S. you need to have a specific education to get a visa for a specific job. And I had a degree in finance, so I needed a design degree.
Lucie Meier: Then I finished my school, I got a job at Louis Vuitton and then Luke started thinking about moving closer to Europe.
Luke Meier: I wanted to move on to something else. After eight years full time there, I was looking around. And when you start making things, you want to learn more about that whole process. At Supreme, going to Prèmiere Vision, I became curious about young fabric developers, typically they were Italian, French, Japanese…this whole world I became curious about. At a certain point, Lucie and I started thinking about moving to Tokyo, or Lucie coming to New York and in the end I ended up leaving Supreme full time, although I freelanced there for three or four years, but I didn’t need to be in New York all the time. I was traveling around a lot: California, Arizona, Canada and Paris, because Lucie was there. I was just figuring it out. I had this sort of nomadic period for a while. But it was really good, because after being for so long in the same place, in New York, I couldn’t take that anymore. And also, having European roots is something that probably pushed me to see more things, learn more stuff.
WWD: Is there anything emotional about showing in Florence this time? Do you feel like a special link with the city in a way?
Luke Meier: Yes, there’s always that shadow when I go there we lived there as students, I mean both of us have been back quite a lot because there’s such a rich environment around there for development, also for Jil Sander.
WWD: Do you have factories in Tuscany for Jil Sander?
Luke Meier: Yes, for a lot of things: leather, fabric mills, small artisans. I mean, you probably could make everything you need in Tuscany, whether it’s fashion or food, wine, marble or whatever. [The artisans in Florence] can be entirely self-sufficient, no? They really could, they could put up some walls and be totally fine.
Lucie Meier: I only have really positive memories about my time there, nothing negative.
Luke Meier: I don’t know if there’s something specific in the collection, but I think we knew we were doing something there quite early on. I think maybe we’ve taken it a little more seriously this time — we never really slack off, but I think we’ve always thought about the importance of this show in this location.
WWD: Also because it’s Pitti Uomo, no? It’s a major thing in the men’s industry. Do you attend the show?
Luke Meier: I used to a bit more, now our time is a bit squeezed because we’re obviously preparing the Paris show. But what I like about it is that it doesn’t feel purely commercial, it feels creative and quite investigative in a way. They always try to do something interesting, there’s always something exciting that happens there, it’s actually a really great forum for these kinds of activities.
WWD: The fact that Pitti Uomo is not in Milan, New York or Paris helps to create a different vibe.
Lucie Meier: It’s also the people…I think in a way they are more receptive because there’s so much they can really digest.
WWD: The city itself is an open air museum.
Luke Meier: Logistically it’s very easy to do because pretty much you’re walking everywhere, plus or minus. Venice can also be really nice for these kinds of things but logistics there can be a challenge.
WWD: Can you give me some hints on the collection? Anything you can say?
Luke Meier: A lot of men [he laughs]. Pants, trousers, some tailoring. You know, the reason why we don’t really like to talk too much about the collection is because we don’t like people having too much of a pre-conceived idea about what they should look for. We like people to arrive with a very fresh mind and not really have any idea, because I feel in a way that if you give somebody a context to something, they’re going to be hunting for that thing rather [than be] receptive to something else. We are happy to talk about it for hours after, if people want to start to peel away the layers to look for the reference or idea. There are always a lot of references, there are personal things almost every time but maybe this time there’s a bit more personal stuff in there. I always like to hear what people think after if they have no clue on what to expect.
Lucie Meier: What I think we can say is that this collection is going to be quite poetic.
WWD: Did you put things in a different perspective, or are you continuing with the same storytelling?
Lucie Meier: It’s different, the last one was quite dressed up. What’s maybe new is that there are more embellishments than in the past. We never really did embellishments for men, this is kind of a new thing.
Luke Meier: We always like to have some sort of handwork involved and I think this time it’s a bit more evident visually than being just like a technique of construction or something like that.
WWD: It sounds like it’s in line with the latest women’s show, where details were more evident. Is this going to be a signature element for the future? A new way to refresh the image of Jil Sander? How do you feel working for a brand with such a clear heritage?
Lucie Meier: Even if we have a very personal approach to what we do, we’re at the same time very much in line with the Jil Sander heritage. This is really what we love. We really care about the fabrics, the silhouettes, the cuts, the timelessness. So in a way we don’t really have to think about it too much, it’s not like, “Oh, we can never do this here.” It’s not even that Jil Sander is this box in a way, to us it’s really like the Jil Sander approach to everything. In a way we never want to look back because Jil Sander is not about looking back, it really just stands for quality, something forward, whatever that is. It’s not really [about] restrictions.
Luke Meier: There’s never this moment when we are like, “Mmm, is it really like in line with the brand?” There’s never that. It’s more “Does it feel right?”
Lucie Meier: But then, it’s the whole way we approach a product, it’s the best possible fabrics, the best possible way to make a garment, the best possible finishing, every single detail that contributes to a piece is considered in an elevated way.
Luke Meier: We don’t think we feel any weight. We’re more affected by our own expectations sometimes than anything else.
WWD: Will you go back to Paris to show next season?
Lucie Meier: Yes, unless Stefano [Pitigliani, Jil Sander’s communication director] has other plans.
WWD: Do you think Paris Fashion Week is the right framework for you, rather than Milan? Or is it a way to put a separation between men’s and women’s?
Luke Meier: I think that yes, that’s probably one part. We also like to be in Paris to spend a little bit of time on the personal side.
WWD: Lucie, are you more on women’s wear and you Luke more on men’s wear, or do you just work together on everything?
Lucie Meier: We work together on everything, then men’s comes easier to Luke and women’s comes easier to me. But we always exchange rather than do our own stuff. I think it’s quite interesting to have a woman in the men’s and also the other way round. Anyway, our way of working or thinking about stuff is very different anyway, so it’s quite interesting.
WWD: Is it hard to balance the personal and professional life when you do everything together?
Lucie Meier: Not really. We’re creative, you never really turn off your creative mind, there’s always something that keeps going. If we had to do just numbers day and night it would be a very different thing but talking about creative ideas and just inspiring each other and building on ideas — it’s actually not really work.
Luke Meier: Before this job, we were both working in design fields and so we’ve always had a dialogue about anything that was going on, that we were interested in.
WWD: In September in New York you had a pop-up store at Dover Street Market that looked really great. Is that a good way to telegraph the Jil Sander message, to collaborate with retailers?
Luke Meier: I think it’s really cool. I mean, there are definitely retailers around the world that do a better job with those things and I think Dover Street is one of them. Whenever I go to any city where there’s a Dover Street Market I go check it out and see what’s happening because it always feels like you’ll discover something. I think it’s quite difficult to find this discovery kind of vibe, because they all kind of become the same everywhere you go. It’s also interesting to go into some other spaces and see how we can exist in there, because of course having your own stores you can control absolutely everything.