Jil Sander is back. That was the fashionable consensus after her spring 2013 show in Milan yesterday, marking the German designer's return to her own label after a hiatus of nearly eight years.
The label has been much talked about in recent seasons, mainly for its run of critically acclaimed collections by previous incumbent, Raf Simons – who is now heading up Christian Dior, after John Galliano's fall from grace there – but also for the dramatic machinations which unfolded in February during the last round of shows in the city.
Simons was out, came the announcement, and Sander was in – despite having quit twice in the past due to creative differences with the label's backers.
"I feel great to be here," Sander said backstage, as colleagues and critics queued up to congratulate her after the show. "I have a lot of friends here from my long career, and we have so much passion. Excellence – this is our future."
Nothing if not a perfectionist, Sander showed a collection that was precise and pretty, perhaps more so than many had predicted. Colours were sombre at first – deep rust and rich midnight blue, teamed with plenty of black and white pieces – but there were flashes of orange too, a bright, not-quite-neon coral-ish hue that defied easy description.
Rigid double-faced cotton shift dresses, long-line waistcoats and coats were clean and minimal. The cut of each was brilliantly clinical, but swags, yokes and panelling made pieces fluid and sculpted. The only embellishment throughout was a spray of rubberised and holographic disks on white circle skirts, that caught the light in myriad ways.
Sander signatures included oversized patch pockets and flat-cut sleeves, an innovative approach to fabrics, and the label's hero piece: the white shirt, reworked in various slim-fitting styles.
For a designer who gained cult status in the Nineties by dressing working women in coolly androgynous, often deliberately severe tailoring, Sander yesterday incorporated many of the more feminine tics for which Simons was praised during his time at the house. There were none of his couture flourishes, but there seemed to be an appreciation for how the label had evolved under his direction, with elegant but sporty cigarette pants, slit-back vests and moulded shell tops.
"I think we should look for excellence," Sander said. "For our culture, it's important to look for the sensitivity of the artisan's world. I hope you enjoyed it."
The whistles, whoops and cheers the crowd responded with were surely answer enough.