When Raf Simons was announced creative director of Jil Sander in 2005, the fashion world rejoiced. Already a revered name in menswear that did much for the language of fashion, now he would get his say for women too, at the house that came to Milan via Germany.
Founded by Sander in 1968, the label hit its stride in the 80s as the antithesis to the power-shouldered excess of the time. In the 90s it blew up as minimalism became the voice, 'simple' clothes in luxurious fabrics cutting to the chase yet rendered odd in campaigns starring the likes of Guinevere, captured by photographers David Sims and Craig McDean. Stripped away of fashion varnish, these clothes allowed their wearer's personality to shine through uninhibited. And that's something of a grunge legacy that remains today.
When Raf Simons was once asked which labels he'd consider putting his hand to, he remarked either Jil Sander or Helmut Lang. In his seven year tenure at a dream role, he built a powerful crescendo rising from a respectful purity.
Starting with Autumn/Winter 2006, Simons worked for consecutive seasons stripping back the house to its essence – white shirts and navy tailoring, the romantic ideal of uniform. Metal was threaded through knitwear and sat as alien cables on reinvented sheepskin. Then retina-bashing colour was unleashed, illuminous and ravey, like the punchy techno soundtracks to the shows themselves.
Today, in 2012, the label is a world of possibilities after Simons became fixated with 20th century haute couture; new volumes, pattern and a sense of vitality, as seen in his Spring/Summer 12 collection, with its veiled Stephen Jones beanies and bridal undercurrent.
The marriage too of Simons to Sander, the brand, has been a great one. You get the feeling they've both learned a lot from each other and undoubtedly enriched each other's lives. As well as those of fashionheads, who clamoured for sold-out acrylic 'market' shopping bags, sculptural platform shoes, great knits and iPad cases in cerulean snakeskin. With Patrick Bateman leather the menswear punctuation point for Autumn/Winter 12.
The fact that everything must end, at some point, is what makes – and validates – any experience. As the founder returns, we eagerly await Simons' next step. There's a feeling he's just getting started.