Fashion icon Jil Sander turns 80

Fashion icon Jil Sander turns 80

With her purism, the Hamburg designer revolutionized fashion in the 1980s and 90s.

A unique sense of beauty, an eye for fashion and incredible hard work: with these skills, Hamburg designer Jil Sander has made it onto the acclaimed catwalks and exquisite wardrobes of the world. The designer, born Heidemarie Jiline Sander in 1943 near Wesselburen (Schleswig-Holstein), revolutionized women’s clothing with her purism in the 1980s and 90s.

Its minimalist and comfortable cut, best quality blazers, shirts and trousers, influenced by men’s clothing, shaped the style of modern women in Europe and abroad who were fighting for independence. She also set standards for accessories and cosmetics.

“I would love to forget this birthday.”

The brand she founded and bears her name still exists and inspires today. Although she was no longer owned by Jil Sander in 2000, she continued working for her for five years. The Hamburg native overcame considerable difficulties during her phenomenal rise. On November 27th, the discreet and successful woman with residences near Plön, Hamburg, Berlin, Gstaad (Switzerland) and Ibiza (Spain) will celebrate her 80th birthday. Where and how she will do this is unknown. She only revealed one thing to the German Press Agency: “I like to forget this birthday and travel.”

Jil Sander and his brand are still well known and have had a huge influence on fashion. Jil Sander, the inventor of the “onion look”, is the most internationally successful German designer, says Bisrat Negassi, head of the fashion and textiles collection at the Museum für Kunst & Gewerbe Hamburg. “With clean lines and incredibly sophisticated cuts, she created intellectual fashion that celebrates understatement and is sophisticated.”

Jil Sander with model Christy Turlington. IMAGO/United Archives / Valdmanis


Jil Sander with model Christy Turlington.IMAGO/United Archives/Valdmanis

The Hanseatic town where Jil Sander grew up with her mother and second husband after two years in Heide (Schleswig-Holstein) became the nucleus of her unique career, which earned her the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (1996) and the Personality Award, the German Design Award (2018) and the honorary title “Queen of Less”. In 2017, the Museum of Applied Arts in Frankfurt/Main held the first major solo exhibition of Jil Sander’s work.

But first Sander was drawn to the big world and the young girl with casually styled blond curls and a keen interest in clothes that she had had since childhood left her homeland in northern Germany. She studied at the State School of Textile Engineering Krefeld (North Rhine-Westphalia) and University College Los Angeles (USA). She then worked in New York at the women’s magazine “McCalls”.

Functional euphemism

After two years, Jil Sander returned to Hamburg in 1963, where she worked as a fashion editor at the magazines “Constanze” and “Petra”. At 24, she sold her Beetle so she could open a black-painted boutique in the up-and-coming Pöseldorf neighborhood. However, as an aspiring businesswoman, she failed with the idea of ​​having well-designed fashion made in India and selling it at democratic prices. Then Jil Sander, at once tender and tough, fundamentally changed her concept.

Jil Sander was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit by Federal President Roman Herzog in 1996. IMAGO/United Archives / Valdmanis


Jil Sander was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit by Federal President Roman Herzog in 1996.IMAGO/United Archives/Valdmanis

In addition to designs by Parisian luxury designers such as Sonia Rykiel, she offered her own fashion from 1973. She relied on functional discretion in restrained colors made from specially developed high-tech fabrics, wool, cashmere, silk and linen. “Inner qualities are strengthened when the outside is right,” she always said.

Sander saw himself linked to the Bauhaus. In doing so, she went against contemporary fashion tastes, which preferred colorful and decorative things. “I knew and appreciated Jil Sander as a particularly passionate designer,” said her Hamburg colleague, the “Queen of Kashmir” Iris von Arnim.

Sander managed to overcome his financially difficult early years thanks to a lucrative perfume license. She offered a line of fragrances and care with cosmetics manufacturer Beecham – and promoted them with her own face, which made her known as a personality. At that time, “Woman Pure” and “Men Pure” hit the market at the same time.

In the fashion-exalted 1980s, Sander presented her collections at internationally important press fairs in Milan. From 1983 to 1985 she also worked as a professor in the fashion class at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna – as successor to Karl Lagerfeld. In 1989, she took her company public and served as CEO.

Flagship and franchised stores worldwide

Major Jil Sander stores and franchises have been created around the world, including in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Taipei. In the 90s, she developed a men’s line that soon contributed 20% of the group’s sales. After triumphant years, the Hamburg native entered into a joint venture with the Italian group Prada in 1999. She later sold her majority stake to her partner – for a reported 275 million marks.

In 2003, she once again assumed design responsibility for the company that bears her name, which was in the red under the leadership of Prada. Sander was successful once again. But in 2004 she split with Prada boss Patrizio Bertelli and took on Jil Sander’s design for the last time in 2012.

This time too, Sander received a lot of recognition. Just a year later, the Hamburg native turned her back on the brand that bears her name for the last time, according to her own statements for personal reasons. In 2014, her partner, Angelica “Dicky” Mommsen, died of cancer at age 72. Sander also lived with her on the Ruhleben estate near Plön (Schleswig-Holstein).

The designer’s hobbies, who have never worn jewelry, include designing gardens and collecting contemporary art. Sander also plays golf, loves hiking in the mountains and driving. (APA/dpa)

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