A persistent problem in the fashion industry is the case of designer departures. This isn’t news: it’s been endemic for many years now. I recall it proliferating in 2015—the year Raf Simons famously exited Christian Dior. Designers are still in and out houses like a revolving door. Celebrating a five year tenure is remarkable, as nobody seems to last that long. Jil Sander’s Rodolfo Paglialunga, who assumed the reins when the eponymous designer departed the label for the third time in its existence, is the next designer to retire his position. Paglialunga’s incumbency has been one met with mixed reactions—some found it head-scratching, stiffly dull; others were swept away by both his adherence to the minimalist codes of the house but also his penchant for betraying them. I rested somewhere in the middle. There were times when there was headache-inducing confusion and others when his minimalist mastery captured my heart.
His final collection, presented during the Fall 2017 season, was met with positive reviews. (Although the house had yet to confirm it, the show space was abuzz with rumours that it was to be Paglialunga’s swan song. It was a fine effort to go out on—both striking and memorable, a rare feat for minimalist designers in times when maximalism engulfs the mainstream.
Masculine tailoring, the 40s imbued the collection with whiffs of security and protection, evoking an image of an authoritative woman. The wide-shouldered coats, sturdy structures and weighty fabrics symbolised the dominant trend. The imposed gender neutrality of the suiting was a nod to one of the minimalist movement’s defining characteristics. To counteract this sharpness with something more poetic and graceful, there were sumptuous silhouettes, swaying with every stride. It was a classic case of fashion looking good, regardless of it not being laced with rich subtext. Sometimes we need that too—for every notion of protection from the big bad world, we need an escape, an optimistic reminder of the beautiful things in life. This was underscored by the four closing looks: four lurex dresses in lilac, gold and rust with sophisticated nods to 80s party dressing.
Jil Sander isn’t a label that invokes an emotional response in the same way as Gucci, Céline or Louis Vuitton, for example. It’s functionality and elegance isn’t exclusive to the label but it’s fashion history and house codes are unmistakable. Paglialunga’s interpretation and often lofty reformation of them has been pleasantly surprising—for better or for worse. Here, we were presented with a visually arresting display of minimalist fashion designs that struck one as more than just meaningless clothes, but ones that had a subtle message and a large impact.
Minimalism often comes off as chilly or effortlessly nonchalant. Calvin Klein in the 1990s was insouciant, the label of the decade; Maison Martin Margiela, as it was formerly known, was cerebrally-inclined but seminal, endlessly inspiring a generation of fashion designers to come; Helmut Lang oozed confident, understated sexiness. Jil Sander was the sensual one but a chilly rigour has pervaded the house; it hasn’t always been auspicious. This season, however, felt like a return to beauty—a swishy elegance that warmed the heart rather than cooled it. A captivating collection, a sombre swan song.