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Creative director quits at Jil Sander – fuelling speculation he's set for the hot seat at Dior

Italian fashion house Jil Sander yesterday announced that its creative director Raf Simons would step down from his post after the label's autumn 2012 show in Milan this Saturday.

Rumours of Simons' departure have been whispered around the industry for almost six months, and the announcement will only serve to increase speculation that the Belgian designer is destined for the top job at French house Christian Dior, a vacancy that has remained conspicuously unfilled since John Galliano's dismissal last March.

"Jil Sander thanks Raf Simons for his dedicated commitment to the brand and wishes him the very best for the future," the company said in a statement. "The group will communicate the appointment of a new creative director in the next few days."

In a strange twist, Jil Sander herself, the German designer who founded the label in 1968, gave an interview published yesterday in which she told the German magazine Gaia that she would like to return to the brand which bears her name. The Milan-based company has declined to comment on this.

Sander originally left the label in 2000 after selling a 75 per cent stake to the Prada Group, citing disagreements with CEO Patrizio Bertelli. They negotiated a truce and she returned in 2003, only to leave again the following year for the same reason. After a period of retirement, Sander's name became common currency once more when she signed on to collaborate with Japanese high street chain Uniqlo in 2009.

Since his appointment to the label in 2005, designer Raf Simons has brought his own version of conceptual femininity to Jil Sander. Originally a brand that thrived during the Nineties vogue for minimal design with its androgynous subversion of the masculine wardrobe, Simons' more delicate version of fashionable purism has widened the label's reach and developed its personality considerably.

"I was thinking about the heritage of Jil Sander," he said backstage at last season's acclaimed show, in which he mixed Fifties dirndl skirts and dresses with paisley and Picasso prints, "but I don't want to use her methods anymore. I want it to be sexier, more romantic." Simons' past three collections have been dubbed his "couture trilogy" by some, as his aesthetic has reached ever more ambitious and exquisite heights. Could they have been preparation for a new beginning elsewhere? The fashion world waits with baited breath.

Meanwhile, the catwalk schedule continued with MaxMara and Fendi yesterday showing two very different versions of luxury. The former developed several trends to have emerged previously in both New York and London, with military-inspired olive greatcoats made from double cashmere, as well as houndstooth and Prince of Wales check knits embellished with sparkling crystals.

Karl Lagerfeld's collection for Fendi is sure to divide opinion, with its use of exotic furs and skins. Tufted fox decorated the shoulders of cable- knit sweaters, while goat hair was dyed canary yellow for a shaggy and striking finale. Whatever the ethical dilemmas, there is a demand for such materials in Italy – and, most importantly, the emerging markets – and this is a collection sure to satisfy those tastes.

Yesterday evening also saw another of Milan's biggest names unveiling their autumn range. "I didn't want to talk about power, but about being important," said Miuccia Prada after showing her collection of mainly tailored pieces, printed with vintage lozenge and rhomboid prints from the label's own archive. "And about the importance of beauty. It wasn't ideas, just clothes."

These came in an idiosyncratic silhouette, with waists cinched at empire-line height by belts with chunky plastic buckles, short trousers layered with mid-length kilt-style skirts and cropped frock coats with tails that were also embellished with plastic tiles, crystals and mirrored beads.

Initial pieces in plain black wool felt austere, but as the collection moved from darker separates to suiting, a palette of increasingly challenging colour combinations emerged. The graphic prints had a seventies feel - in orange and purple, mustard and brown, even navy and black - and repeating pastille imagery was picked out in 3D with yet more oversized plastic adornments.

"They were fake prints," Prada said. "Just plastic not jewels. It was poor embroidery."

But it was of the highest quality, of course, from a powerhouse known for her attention to detail.

Fashion week in Milan continues today with catwalk shows from Versace and Moschino.

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