Exhibition: “Jil Sander. Präsens” at the Museum Angewandte Kunst

Jil Sander S/S 1996, Model: Guinivere van Seenus | ©Craig McDean | Portrait Jil Sander, Marie Claire Germany, 1991 | ©Peter Lindbergh

Jil Sander is probably the most influential female German designer. Starting November 4th, an exhibition at the MAK will honor her work

Jil Sander put Germany on the international fashion radar for the first time. Her signature look was simple, unembellished, self-confident and, for all of those reasons, daring: With audacious minimalism, the Hamburg-born designer set out to revolutionize the entirety of women’s fashion – and succeeded. Now the Museum Angewandte Kunst is bringing Jil Sander back to her home country. Working closely with the designer, the museum’s halls are being used to stage large-scale installations and multimedia contributions of the designer’s fashion, architecture and garden art.

The 80s were the decade of the power suit. Women conquered the executive floors of busy open-plan offices and plunged deeper into a male-dominated world. In order to fit into the business world and to be taken seriously, they dressed appropriately – their worldwide uniform was provided by none other than the German designer Jil Sander. Her perfectly cut pant suits in matte hues, androgynous shirts, close-fitting coats, and all the cashmere exemplified daring restraint and simple luxury. Jil Sander’s creations broke with the usual clichés of femininity – and hit the zeitgeist.

Back in 1973, Heidemarie Jiline Sander brought a groundbreaking minimalist expression to life with her first collection. In the midst of the colorful seventies, however, it didn’t find much favor; the premiere at Paris Fashion Week in 1975 was a disaster. Next to the opulent haute couture, Sander’s unadorned designs were torn apart or largely ignored by the press, which considered them to be too raw and unattractive. Sander moved to Milan, known for its excellent craftsmanship, remained true to herself, and from there finally embarked on the triumphal march of form, function and proportion. Her noble, purist style became an international model for women.

“Shoulders were getting wider and wider. But I dealt with it quite well, as they were also an aspect of emancipation. Equality, strength, and attitude are good. So the shoulders fit. You have to see everything against the backdrop of your time,” said Jil Sander in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine. In the 1990s, the “Queen of Less” finally became the driving force behind the new minimalism. Suddenly the suit was the epitome of cool.

Jil Sander didn’t just have a good feel for fashion design. Hers was one of the first fashion houses to launch a successful perfume line, she went public early on, and set architectural standards with the first flagship stores in Tokyo and New York. Even though the designer has completely withdrawn from the company even after a comeback in 2013, the Jil Sander fashion house is still synonymous with consummate simplicity, perfect lines, and the highest level of craftsmanship. In her dogged resistance to trends, the master of timelessness was ultimately always ahead of her time.  

“I have learned that your own self unfolds over time. You don’t have to know everything at every moment and have it present. But it all has to be there to be brought out at some point,” said the 73-year-old designer. The radically pure teachings of Jil Sander, in all of their universality, are now coming back to the present at Museum Angewandte Kunst.

Jil Sander. Präsens is on show from November 4, 2017 until May 6, 2018 in Frankfurt. Afterwards, the exhibition will travel to New York, Tokyo, and Seoul. Further information can be found on the MAK website here.

Translation: Melissa Frost

Fashion, art, and pop culture are her cosmos; the written word, the material she uses to bring it all together. After studying in Leipzig, Lola Fröbe moved to Berlin in 2014. She works as a PR consultant and freelance journalist for publications such as L'Officiel, i-D, and Material Magazine.