Heidemarie Jiline 'Jil' Sander (born 27 November 1943) is a minimalist German fashion designer and the founder of the Jil Sander fashion house.
Sander's trademark look, a contemporary, somewhat odd, New Look – originally intended for women conquering executive positions in the 1980s – was that of a precisely cut pantsuit, a slim blouse and a form-fitting coat made of luxurious fabrics in plain grey, beige, blue, black or white. Jil Sander enjoyed almost cult-like followings for her fashions that could all be easily coordinated and have always ranged in the top price segment. For her single-minded focus on understated elegance, high-end materials and refined tailoring, Sander has been described as the Queen of Less, Cashmere-Queen, Master of Minimalism, Cool Blonde, Gentle-Jil or Fashion Reductionist.
Sander's eponymous fashion label still exists today but has been carried on without her involvement since 2004. In early 2009, Sander, after years of absence from the world of fashion, announced the creation of her own fashion consultancy, and her employment by Uniqlo of Japan.
Jil Sander, born in Wesselburen, Schleswig-Holstein, grew up with her mother and later studied textile design in Krefeld from where she graduated as a textile engineer in 1963. Having spent two years as an exchange student at University of California at Los Angeles, she worked as a fashion editor at German women's magazine Petra before opening her first boutique in a Hamburg suburb in 1967. She started out selling fashion designed by Thierry Mugler or Sonia Rykiel and also a few of her own designs. And, with few ups and downs, she founded her eponymous fashion house, Jil Sander GmbH in 1968.
Showing her collection in Paris in 1975 proved a complete failure, though. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the fashion world was dominated by lavish, colorful and glitzy Dynasty-style designs by the likes of Claude Montana with his broad-shouldered leather look, Jil Sander's minimalist collections, with a focus on fabric quality came close to a revolution in the fashion world and were not accepted next to the Parisian catwalks. Her style only started gaining attention in the 1990s.
Since 1978, Sander marketed her first perfume prominently featuring her countenance. The owner of Lancaster Cosmetics allowed her financially to run ads in glamorous magazines on a large scale for her fashion. The fact that her creations were coordinates which could all be easily combined with each other became a popular characteristic. Sander created the so-called onion look (German: 'Zwiebel-Look') layering various pieces of clothing in one outfit. Later, licenses would be given for eyewear and leather accessory lines. In the 1980s, Sander's collections were first shown in Milan to tackle the international markets more efficiently. As a result, sales were steadily increasing. More fragrances were added to the cosmetics line. The label's luxurious minimalism was a hit in the later 1990s.
Jil Sander AG went public in 1989 and was sold to shareholders on the Frankfurt stock exchange among the first fashion houses to venture on such a step. Sander used the new capital to expand in Asia and North America. Her success overseas resulted in expensively furnished flagship stores in Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Taipei among a big number of others. Sander personally overlooked the design of her stores and strict guidelines were implemented for the sales staff on how to behave and where to stand in the boutiques. At the Paris store, opened in 1993, the Jil Sander collections could be shown on more than 9,000 square feet (840 m2) and four floors. The space at 52 Avenue Montaigne in Paris used to be French fashion designer Madeleine Vionnet's atelier and showroom, a designer whose work has influenced Sander's. In 1998 Jil Sander and German sportswear house Puma jointly launched a successful sneakers collection.