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Exclusive interview: Jil Sander designer Rodolfo Paglialunga


Since he became creative director of Jil Sander two years ago, Rodolfo Paglialunga has been gently redefining the minimalism of the label, bringing a fresh approach to the German label’s signature style. He talks to Karen Munnis about his new ideas and the future of the brand

Karen Munnis portrait
Karen Munnis,

Few names are as synonymous with minimalist luxury as German designer Jil Sander. Known as the Queen of Less, Sander founded her eponymous brand in 1968 and opened her first boutique in the upmarket Hamburg district of Pöseldorf. In 1973 she presented her first womenswear collection. Sander’s understated approach to fashion used luxurious fabrics to create austere-looking coats and suiting, and specialised in monochromatic silhouettes and clean, uncomplicated tailoring. The brand developed a cult following among the fashion press and buyers alike. Sander launched her first cosmetics and fragrance lines in the late 1970s and followed this with accessories and a menswear range.

A new beginning
The brand has never veered too far from its minimalist, modern origins yet, behind the scenes, the house has experienced numerous changes, most notably within the role of creative director. Since 2000, Jil Sander has left and returned to the company several times. During Sander’s absences the brand has seen both Raf Simons and Milan Vukmirovic at the helm. When Sander departed from the label in 2013, for what looks to be the last time, Rodolfo Paglialunga was named as her successor. The Italian designer was formerly womenswear design director at Prada and creative director at Vionnet.

Making his mark
Spring/summer 2016 marked Paglialunga’s third womenswear collection and his second showing for menswear at Jil Sander. Having been at the house for several seasons now, Paglialunga has found the perfect balance between his own approach and the minimalist aesthetic of the brand. ‘When I decided to take the position, I thought I had to evolve Jil Sander with my own style, but I realised that there are many points in common between the brand’s identity codes and my own,’ he explains. There are, however, still challenges to working for a house with such a distinctive style, and one that’s been a trailblazer in defining a minimalist way of dressing. ‘This brand is the epitome of a very specific aesthetic based on defined codes and the most durable values, such as purity, clarity, elegance and modernity,’ says Paglialunga. ‘The real challenge was expressing all these distinctive features while adding my personal touch, combining minimal modern with functional reality.’

Modern minimalism
But what is minimal modern? Paglialunga views minimalism then and minimalism now very differently. In the 1990s, it was more of a movement, a backlash against the decadent 80s and, as a result, Jil Sander’s pared-down elegance soared in popularity. Now, says Paglialunga, minimalism can be reworked and refined. ‘Minimal in the 90s was considered more as a lifestyle, all defined in black and white codes. Nowadays, it’s a sort of “new minimalism” ‒ a unique style, with very exclusive fabrics, specific colour combinations and materials that can redefine the Jil Sander tradition and code.’

Romantic womenswear
For womenswear this season, Paglialunga brought a softness and romanticism to a house often associated with strict precision. Working with silk satin, washed jacquard silk, silk duchesse, and plongée leather, he creates jackets featuring slashes or cut-outs that reveal a hint of skin, and dresses that feel more fluid and feminine, realised in delicate, pale tones. ‘I wanted to bring femininity into the house. My designs are more fluid but still structured. The formal purism of the brand is seen now from another perspective – a little bit more romantic and dreamy with a suffused sensuality,’ says the designer.

Fuctional menswear
In contrast, Paglialunga describes his spring/summer 2016 menswear collection as ‘urban functionalism’, and its utilitarian-inspired designs feature nametags, adjustable straps and zips across tailored jackets, trousers, shirts and shorts. A strict, uniform-like feeling is also conveyed throughout with the use of canvas, cotton poplin and nylon fabrics, and sombre shades such as grey, black and military green.

Holding onto heritage
Staying true to the heritage of the house, Paglialunga has reworked the pure, precise nature of Jil Sander. ‘I definitely wanted to give a new spin, while always respecting the heritage and the core values of the brand,’ he says. ‘In both collections, there was a change in shapes, as I focused more on the silhouette and defined new details. It is a cooler attitude, still formal but less classical.’ In what would be a daunting situation for some, the designer has shown a bold yet steady approach, allowing his own aesthetic to blend with the design heritage of the house. Retaining all that made Jil Sander so successful in the first place, Paglialunga’s fresh ideas are taking the house forward and are as sure to win new audiences as they are to please loyal fans.

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