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Sander comes out of retirement for Uniqlo

Uniqlo has tempted designer Jil Sander out of retirement to head up all of its menswear and womenswear design on a consultancy basis.

Sander said she was looking forward to the challenge of establishing premium quality designs at “democratic” prices for autumn 09. In addition to overseeing the core men’s and women’s collections, Sander is working on a standalone premium range for autumn 09.

As Drapers went to press, the name of the premium range or launch date had not been disclosed. However, use of the name Jil Sander would be sensitive, as it is owned by Japanese clothing manufacturer Onward Holdings. Sander left her namesake brand in 2004.

Fast Retailing, which owns Uniqlo, said it had “the highest regard for Jil Sander’s skills as a designer and creator of clothes.”

It added: “Her ability to design and create pure, simple silhouettes that shed unnecessary excess, her stringent material selection, exquisite tailoring and use of materials are unique features that have a strong affinity with Uniqlo’s fashion basics orientation.”

Uniqlo said: “We are looking forward to a creative future cultivated jointly by Uniqlo and Jil Sander, which will greatly enhance and promote even higher quality Uniqlo garments.”

This is the first time a top-level designer has taken the creative reins for an entire high street collection. Other high street retailers, including young fashion chain H&M, which has used Stella McCartney and Roberto Cavalli as guest designers, and value chain New Look, which collaborates with Giles Deacon, have
tended to produce small capsule collections.

A Uniqlo spokeswoman said the chain was “trading extremely positively in the UK”. She added that designer collaborations offered a great point of difference in the UK market and helped attract new customers.

Uniqlo is also launching designer tie-up ranges with New York labels including Shipley & Halmos, Steven Alan and Gilded Age this season.

Jil Sander and Uniqlo: the perfect match?

Uniqlo’s decision to sign mistress of minimalism Jil Sander is a canny move. Here is an international retailer which has one eye on northern European young fashion trends and another on retaining a quirky but stripped-down Japanese handwriting.

It is a multiple which has communicated succinctly with both on-trend teens and older shoppers looking for the kind of interestingly cut basics that Gap once created.
Now it has lured Sander, the reclusive German designer whose clean-lined aesthetic, scientific sense of proportion, and obsession with subtle layering convinced shoppers in the 1980s to abandon the wildly inflated silhouettes, lurid colours and over-the-top glitz which defined the era.

It was Sander’s form-fitting, minimalist look, with its austere palette largely made up of black, grey and white, that helped pave the way for the utility-led styles of the 1990s. Sander’s influence informed collections across the board, from Prada to Hugo Boss.

Uniqlo has to some extent followed this design mantra, albeit with a more playful approach to colour. Like Gap, Uniqlo has identified the key categories needed for modern city life, from jeans and T-shirts to light knits and outerwear. But where Gap’s designs were inspired by an East Coast preppy look, Uniqlo has identified itself closer to a contemporary northern European personality, with skinny jeans sat alongside affordable cashmere knits.

Sander’s many fans will be following Uniqlo closely to see how her expertise registers on the retailer’s future designs.

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