Change Capital Partners
Jil Sander AG is a fashion house founded by Jil Sander in 1968. Its minimalist trademarks include striking silhouettes, high-end fabrics, and meticulous detail, emphasizing quality over flash.
In the years after 1978 she revolutionized the industry by marketing her first perfume with a campaign that prominently featured her own face. The internationally successful cooperation with Lancaster Cosmetics allowed her financially to run ads in glamorous magazines on a large scale for her fashion. Later, licenses would be given for eyewear and leather accessory lines. In 1985, it was decided that her collections would be shown in Milan to more efficiently tackle the international markets. Initially much to the regret of the German media, the decision was the right thing to do. As a result, sales were steadily increasing. More fragrances were added to the cosmetics line, and the label's luxurious minimalism proved to be the hit of the mid to late 90's.
Jil Sander AG went public in 1989 and was sold to shareholders on the Frankfurt stock exchange. Jil's fashion house was among the first to venture on such a step. She used the new capital to expand in Asia and North America. Her tremendous success overseas resulted in palatial flagship stores in Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Taipei among many others, whose interior furnishings gobbled up millions. Ms. 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 9000 square feet and four floors. The space at Avenue Montaigne in Paris used to be French fashion designer Madeleine Vionnet's atelier and showroom, one whose work is often compared to that of Sander's. In 1998 Jil Sander and German sportswear house Puma jointly launched a successful sneakers collection.
Jil Sander's success accumulated a fortune in the mid 1990's. Her company survived the economic crisis in Asia. A newly launched men’s collection that had been postponed several times before in 1997 and was described as "precision-cut with an emphasis upon light fabrics", was largely successful. A desire with Ms. Sander to concentrate more on the creative design rather than the business, resulted in much praise and acclaim from the critics. Nevertheless, Jil needed a financially strong partner realizing that her company was steadily growning. Jil Sander AG was no longer a small privately owned business.
In 1999 Prada Group bought a 75% share in her company. Ms. Sander, remained creative designer and became chairwoman in the new joint venture. Six months later, in January 2000, Ms. Sander unexpectedly left after confrontations with Prada CEO Patrizio Bertelli, a quick-tempered Italian businessman. She, an uncompromising perfectionist, refused in using cheaper materials and at bringing the traditionally slim fits in line with standard sizes. Mr. Bertelli had demanded of Jil, some very drastic cost cuts and a more affordable mainstream approach. Bertelli also insisted on giving up the contributary workshops in Germany in favor of the shops in Italy owned by Prada.
Milan Vukmirovic, a former buyer from Colette and Gucci team designer, had been installed as Ms. Sander’s successor by Bertelli. He unsuccessfully tried to follow in her footsteps. Pressured by Prada to cater to a wider audience, Vukmirovic came up with mediocre but commercially viable sportswear collections in 2002 and 2003 that drove away longstanding Jil Sander patrons and failed to attract new customers. The company had been in the red since 2001. It was said that with rapidly sinking sales Prada Group had to go to huge expenses just to keep the house of Jil Sander going.
To everyone’s surprise Ms. Sander, whose heart was probably bleeding when she looked at what Prada had made of her fashion house, returned to the company she had founded more than 30 years before as head designer and partner in May 2003, after her noncompete clause had expired. Supposedly, Bertelli had begged her to come back. Her sensational comeback was celebrated unanimously and with much fanfare by the international press. She designed two collections that were both shown in Milan, she altered Vukmirovic’s existing sketches for the men’s collection, she redesigned some of her boutiques and even sat down to go through the books herself. Everyone was certain that with the spirit of the company back in the house things would get well again. But in November 2004, Ms. Sander agreed to terminate cooperation with Prada and resigned from her post again after insurmountable differences with Mr. Bertelli.
It is rumored that it had been Bertelli’s turn to financially support the company, after Ms. Sander herself had made heavy investments, so that Jil Sander AG could be sold from Prada Group, already heavily indebted itself as the result of Mr. Bertelli's management. But apparently the banks refused Bertelli the necessary loans. Subsequently, the glamorous Jil Sander showroom in Hamburg was closed, production was entirely moved to Italy and of more than 300 jobs only about 50 remained. All that was left in Germany in early 2006 was an office for press, distribution and marketing personnel, the staff at the boutiques as well as the Hamburg atelier for the women’s collection. The corporation was supposed to be transformed into a holding company with the Italian subsidiaries taking over administrative and business duties. Prada Group still held a 98% stake in the company which generated losses of €10 million after taxes in the first half-year of 2005. The losses in 2004 had been almost €30 million.
For the time after Ms. Sander’s departure an in-house design team was formed to take care of the collections. The slim fits, so typical of Jil Sander, had meanwhile been adjusted to mainstream sizes.
In May 2005, it was announced that Raf Simons, a Belgian industrial designer who also has his own men’s label (Link) and is a professor at Vienna's University of Applied Arts, had become creative director for the women’s and men’s collection.
Simons’ first women’s collection (he had never designed for women before) for the house of Jil Sander was shown at the February 2006 fashion shows in Milan. The collection received overwhelmingly favorable reviews from the critics (Reference: The Evening Standard) and was considered "extraordinary, full of the kind of subtle details and sumptuous fabrics that will challenge the prevailing idea of luxury" (Source: LA Times).
To this day, the house produces only two pricey high-end lines, one for women and one for men. Ms. Sander herself had always been strictly against launching a secondary line or bridge collection.
In late February 2006, Prada Group sold Jil Sander AG to London-based British private equity firm, Change Capital Partners (CCP), for an estimated $ 120 million. Founded by Luc Vandevelde, former CEO of Marks & Spencer and now also chairman of Carrefour, the buyout firm CCP specializes in middle market investments mainly in the fashion industry.
Raf Simons remained creative director at Jil Sander. It was said that the tremendous success of his latest women's collection for the house was the ultimate trigger for CCP to invest. (Reference: The New York Times). CCP announced to expand the brand in the future which analysts expect to break even again in 2006 with sales estimated at around € 140 million for the year.
As of 2005, there were 14 Jil Sander Flagship Stores, 13 Freestanding Stores and 27 Shop-In-Shops. Of those, some are maintained by Jil Sander AG, others are operated under franchise agreements.
Store locations include: Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Berlin, München, Zürich, Paris, London, New York, Chicago, Tokyo, Taipeh, Hong Kong, Singapore, among others. An accessories-only store is to be opened in Moscow in the end of 2007.
Her trademark look, a somewhat New Look for women conquering executive positions in the 1980s, was that of a perfectly cut pantsuit, a form-fitting simple but elegant coat or a slim blouse made of the most luxurious materials in plain grey, black, blue or white leaving out any unnecessary details, extravagant ornaments or loud colors. The fact that her creations were coordinates which could all be easily combined with each other became a popular characteristic. She created the so-called onion look (Zwiebel-Look) layering various pieces of clothing in one outfit. She has been described as the Queen of Less, Cashmere-Queen, Master of Minimalism, Cool Blonde, Gentle-Jil or Fashion Reductionist.
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, garishly colorful and glitzy Dynasty-style designs by the likes of Claude Montana with his broad-shouldered leather look, Jil Sander's minimalist, sophisticated and strict collections, with a focus on fabric quality came close to a revolution in the fashion world and were not accepted next to the, from today's point of view, vulgar stylishness on the Parisian catwalks. Her luxurious simplicity and understated elegance only started gaining attention in the 1990s.
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