Requiem Of Fluidity And Softness

At Jil Sander, one can find assurances that the future of fashion is not incurable madness


Jil Sander AW 2020 P1

Of late, we have been reading a number of rants against minimalism, how adherents are boring (old) farts, how they live for safe than sorry, how they mistakenly think simplicity is a virtue. Although minimalism, like most of fashion—from couture to street, has evolved, many haters think minimalist style is “white-on-white-on-white” or “ten variations of taupe”. To them naysayers, so flavourless is minimalism as fashion that a Marie biscuit is tastier and looks better.

But biscuit the colour isn’t as dull as any other that has chromatic commonality with food. Even black has some bro in the comestible. It is possible that these antis can only equate minimalism with plain, possibly the un-designed. Or, they have never seen the work of Luke and Lucie Meier for Jil Sander. The husband-and-wife team has been so deft at what they do for Jil Sander that they have created a clear, distinctive voice for the label that is not a radical departure from the founder’s aesthetic, yet not without their own controlled spin. They have showed that minimalism need not be impoverished of the visually rousing. As guest designers at Pitti Uomo this season, they proved that stripped down is not stripped away.

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It is always fascinating to see how the Meiers can put out what appears to be little with such maximum effect. And without appearing to try too hard, which, increasingly seems to be the adopted look of many of today’s designers, old and new, attempting to make a mark in a difficult-to-dent world, or to remain relevant during a time when relevance morphs into irrelevance as quickly as disruption becoming undisruptive. The Meiers’ Jil Sander does not negate what was established before, nor does it shade the designers’ own vision of what the brand could be, without chipping away at its foundation.

Since 2017, when they joined Jil Sander (now owned by the Japanese multi-label giant Onward Holdings. It was once part of the Prada group), the Meiers have given the brand—both men’s and women’s wear—a contemporary update without stepping into nothing-to-see territory. For men, they have introduced shapes and volumes and decorative details while still keeping to a discipline that qualifies the output as minimalist. Some readers tell us that the two remind them of Lemaire’s also-married-to-each-other Christophe Lemaire and Sarah-Linh Tran, but the two couples could’t be more different. Both may eschew the far out and both may make modest marvelous, but their output are as only as similar as two sides of a coin.

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While many designers are going ‘gorpcore’ (natural next step after street?), the Meiers choose not to broach it. Sure, there are outdoorsy elements in the collection, but they walk in the shadow of the monastic and nomadic. For autumn/winter 2020, we are drawn to how ageless—even genderless—everything looks. If not for the fabrics, which include tweeds, suedes and Japanese wools, it could be seasonless too. It isn’t too dressed up or too dressed down either: the relaxed suits, the supple coats, the gentle capes, and the sleeveless tunics (with the epaulettes of a shirt that can be fastened to the shoulder of one of them). There are the muted water colour prints of what appears to be desert flora, even a bison. To underscore the hard and soft duality of the collection, details go from fringing to metal studs and silver pendants.

Under the Meiers, the brand’s bag offerings are especially strong. Apart from messenger and totes, there are the triangular (if you look at them sideways) postman bags with hand-knotted and crochet straps, hung trinket-like, that subtly under score the craft ethos for Jil Sander. The footwear, too, gets their own highlight in the form of the hiking shoe/sneaker hybrid, which, given the trail boots’ trajectory, is set to be the one to cop. If this alludes to the collection’s steady footing, it is much welcome.

Photos: Jil Sander

Phoebe Philo Fans, Some Possible Alternatives

In one fell swoop, the new Celine was effectively telling former, less-attenuated fans and customers to eff off! But all is not lost. Until the return of Phoebe Philo (or not), some names to consider


Celine SS 2018 adSpring/summer 2018, Phoebe Philo’s last collection for Céline, shot by Juergen Teller. Photos: Céline

By Mao Shan Wang

Enough of harping on what Celine is today or, come January, when the new collection drops, what there is nothing to buy. Trends come and go, so do labels: Look at Lanvin. Besides, loyalty is not as valued as it was before. Only tech companies appreciate loyalty. Apple wouldn’t be where it is today if customers were fickle about why they like the brand. But if there’s something that can be gleaned from the world’s second largest smartphone maker (okay, third-largest since Huawei has overtaken them in August, according to media reports), consistent aesthetic identity is key. An iPhone will always look—and feel—like an iPhone.

Fashion is, of course, not the same as communication devices. It does not have to be user-friendly and it’s a lot more manic and far more mutable, having to update itself up to six times a year, and, now, with monthly drops. But, perhaps due to this need for constant renewal or, rather, refreshment in most cases, some kind of brand consistency is necessary. Unfortunately, for fashion—the luxury business, brand recognition alone is enough, not nearly substance and not nearly astonishment. And since egomaniacs are often installed as creators of the brand’s products, they would like to obliterate what came before. It’s a matter of how ruthless.

Sure, we’re all going to move on to something else. No one died a sartorial death after Michael Kors decamped Céline to continue his own label. I don’t remember anyone knowing at that time that they desired the unsexy but alluring shapes that Phoebe Philo introduced until she did. Fashion is variegated, and there will be others, while not entirely the same as the Céline that, as The Gentlewoman rightly noted, “cut through fashion’s tired fantasy… for sharp reality and hyper-luxurious clothes”, are surely just as genial, pleasing, and intelligent. These are my pick.

Dries Van Noten

Dries Van Noten SS 2019Photos:

I was resistant to adding Dries van Noten to this list, but in his spring/summer 2019 show, I saw quite a few pieces those willingly labelled Philophiles would find compatible with their wardrobe: the loose-hanging jackets, the easy-fit shirts, the modern-sporty outers. Mr Van Noten did not always design like this, but his designs have a certain romance that is increasingly missing in today’s clothes, and an artsiness similar in spirit to what Ms Philo introduced in her latter years at Céline, a welcome flourish at a time when minimalism was being redefined for the post-Helmut Lang era customer.

Haider Ackermann

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This may not seem like an obvious choice. The designs of Haider Ackermann is, however, on track to welcome former Céline fans. The non-body-defining shapes, a slouchiness that suggests I-don’t-care androgyny, and a palette that has more in common with the holy than holi are, to me, the sensibilities that Philo followers can relate to and would desire to buy. What I consider a plus, too, is that Mr Ackermann, who, in 2010 was tipped by Karl Lagerfeld as a possible Chanel designer should the latter bow out, constructs in such a way as to never let the clothes look too dressed-down.

Jil Sander

Jil Sander SS 2019 G1Photos:

It’s hard not to be lured by Luke and Lucie Meier’s clean lines for Jil Sander, arguably the Phoebe Philo of her time. Amid all the noise that fashion now rides on, the Meiers’ quiet tones and gentle shapes are as refreshing as a palate cleanser. Some people think their aesthetic is minimal to a point that it’s almost suited to conventual life. But it is precisely the serenity that the clothes—with quirky details such as extra-wide, inside-out seam allowance and ungainly cuffs for sleeves—project that the more and less restrained Philophiles will adore.


Lemaire SS 2019 G1Photos: Lemaire

Christophe Lemaire and designing partner/wife Sarah-Linh Tran have a chemistry between them that fans and the media alike call poetry. Together, they have created a Lemaire that has more oomph than when Mr Lemaire soldiered on alone under his earlier eponymous label while simultaneously designing for Lacoste. Comparing the duo’s work with Ms Philo’s is probably not fair since Lemaire offers more intriguing details, such as odd pocket placements and alternatives to traditional fastening positions, which, in marketing speak, could be considered value-added. And what value!


Loewe SS 2019 G1Photos: Loewe

While Cathy Horyn thought that Loewe “might be getting too relaxed”, I thought that Jonathon Anderson did it, if true, for the right reasons. As counter stroke to the onward march of street fashion, other designers are pushing for tailoring, sometimes extreme tailoring that encases the body too closely and with shoulders that look ready for war. Mr Anderson, on the other hand, has guided Loewe on a different path. There is dressiness and crafting to the clothes, but with ease in mind. I don’t mean “relaxed” though, I mean freedom from constriction, from efflorescence, even the zeitgeist. Individualism doesn’t mean one has to forgo discernment.