Jil Sander

Lauren Downing Peters

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA244

Jil Sander (given name, Heidemarie Jiline Sanderborn) was born in 1943 in Wesselburen, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. Sander studied textile design at the Krefeld School of Textiles near Düsseldorf, Germany, graduating with a degree in textile engineering in 1963. Sander’s studies also took her to Los Angeles from 1963 to 1964, during which time she worked as a fashion journalist for McCall’s.

In 1964 Sander returned to Germany and took on a position as a fashion editor at the German women’s magazine Petra. In 1968, she left Petra and pursued work as a practicing designer before opening her first boutique in Hamburg in 1968, at which she sold her own designs as well as the work of her contemporaries. In 1969, she founded Jil Sander Modern and refined her signature minimalist style which, while taking into account the contours of the female form, borrows heavily from menswear silhouettes. Sander showed her first women’s collection in 1973; however, Sander’s bold vision proved to be ahead of its time and failed to garner the attention of the wider fashion world.

Seeking to break into the international market, Sander presented her first runway show at Castello Sforzesco in Milan in 1988. With this new exposure, Sander quickly found a consumer base of professional women who hungered for work wear that was beautifully tailored, modern, and subtly sexy. Working alongside Donna Karan and Miuccia Prada, journalist Constance White of The New York Times declared Sander and her fellow designers as “defining the fashion mood of the 1990s.” Sander herself has described her aesthetic as “pure” and as referencing Bauhaus ideals. Throughout the 1990s, Sander continued to grow her business, presenting a full range of suiting, knits, furs, leather goods, menswear, and perfumes, eventually opening her flagship store in Hamburg in 1997.

Seeking to expand her accessories line, Sander sold 75 percent of her company’s common stock to Prada in 2000. However, citing disagreements about the direction the company was heading in, Sander abruptly resigned as chairwoman and chief designer in 2001, leaving the Jil Sander Group in the hands of Prada. The early 2000s was a period marked by great uncertainty and a rapid turnover of designers at Jil Sander. After her departure from her eponymous brand, Sander retreated to a secluded life in Hamburg, Germany. In her stead, Gucci designer Milan Vukmirovic designed for the company from 2000 to 2003 without disrupting the brand’s continuity.

Sander herself returned to her label in May of 2003, with a six-year contract. That contract was broken in 2004 when Sander again left the company due to creative differences with the company’s chief executive, Patrizio Bertelli. In 2005 menswear designer Raf Simons took over as the creative director to great acclaim.

In 2009, Sander returned to designing, creating a capsule collection for the Japanese retailer Uniqlo called +J, which retained many of her signature design attributes. That collaboration ended in 2011 as Sander prepared to return to her label for the 2012 season with great fanfare.

Jil Sander, Spring/Summer 1999. Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Brubach Holly. ““Double Vision”.” The New York Times , 2 October 2009 .

Find in Library Jones Terry , ed. 100 Contemporary Fashion Designers . Cologne : Taschen, 2009.

Find in Library White C. R. ““New Generation of Women Defines Mood of the ’90s”.” The New York Times , 22 July 1997 .