16 February, 2010
Raf Simons, the Belgian fashion designer and creative director of the Jil Sander label, talks about working for a niche market and big business. The Hamburg label now belongs to Onward Holdings Co. Ltd.
Joachim Schirrmacher: Mr. Simons, when you think of Germany and fashion, which designer first comes to mind?
Karl Lagerfeld – he almost gives the impression of coming from a different century. And yet he has contemporary significance in the 21st century. I know less than five names in the fashion trade who can say that of themselves.
But you haven’t mentioned one of the most important German names in fashion…
Because I work there. Jil Sander has influenced me the most. That’s why I was so set on getting the job there. At the beginning of the 1990s Jil’s ideas were very important for purism and for female professionals.
At the time she was one of the world leaders in fashion design.
Absolutely. What impresses me is the way she balanced everything out, lifestyle, materials, advertising. It was a perfect interplay. It was about luxury and modernity, purity, quality. This purism worked really well at the time. But fashion is strongly dependent on the zeitgeist.
Jil Sander resigned from the company in 2004. It would have been interesting to see how she would have developed over the past few years…
It’s every designer’s personal decision whether they want to branch out into big business or prefer to stay with their niche market. She opted for expansion. When you decide to make the big leap, you serve a large public,head a large company, are responsible for a large number of employees. There’s no alternative. Fashions from a company of this size are determined far more by the needs of the public than many people imagine.
When reading about you, it often sounds very German: “He is very thorough”, “takes things very seriously”…
(Laughing) Well, I do come from the North! Belgians were often criticized for their fashions: too gloomy, too earnest. For a long time fashion to me was something serious and deep: concepts, psychology and social behaviour played a role in why people feel attracted to certain images. But fashion has another less serious side, too. It has something ephemeral, and now I’m trying to find a balance. With my designs I want to create something that has meaning, but is playful at the same time. Fashion is very dependent on the respective country. In Italy fashion designs are very casual.
There it’s more about beauty, light- hearted cheerfulness, carefree jauntiness.
Voilà! That’s what I used to criticize, but I don’t any more. It’s important to realize that pure beauty is just as important to the rest of the world of fashion, even if it’s not so important to me personally. You have to understand this if you really want to achieve something in the fashion world. You can’t operate against the system.