Jil Sander is a name synonymous with a particularly pure and understated type of fashion. The German-born designer, who launched her first women's collection back in 1973, is closely associated with '90s minimalism, yet her philosophy of fashion is far from simplistic. On opening her first shop, in Hamburg, at the age of 24, Sander used fabrics traditionally associated with menswear for her women's clothing, demonstrating an androgynous aesthetic that would endure throughout her career; a long-time signature design is the perfectly-cut white shirt, as is the trouser suit.
Jil Sander is also renowned for the development and use of high-tech, yet extremely luxurious, fabrics. The rigorously-considered proportions of her clothing gained Sander a faithful following among sophisticated working women who valued graceful, clean lines over obvious sex appeal or froth.
In 1979 Jil Sander Cosmetics was launched, followed by a leather collection in 1984. The company became a publicly-traded concern in 1989 and a period of rapid expansion followed, with flagship stores opening in Paris, Milan and New York in the early '90s. In 1997, the first menswear collection was shown in Milan. The serenity of Jil Sander clothing is in marked contrast to the corporate history of the company.
In 1999 the Prada Group acquired a majority holding in Jil Sander AG and the following year Sander exited her own company; in November 2000 Milan Vukmirovic was named creative director of both men's and women's collections. However, to the surprise of industry observers, in 2003 Sander returned to the company she founded and for three seasons wowed press and customers with a subtly feminine aesthetic. But in November 2004 she split from her brand and the Prada Group once again. A team of studio designers, many of whom had trained directly under Sander, took over the reigns at the house for a period, until it was announced in May 2005 that Raf Simons was to be the new artistic director of the brand.