Designer goes back to basics to save Jil Sander

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The Independent Online

In what may be the last chance to revive the fortunes of Jil Sander, the fashion brand that defined Nineties minimalism, the new chief designer, Raf Simons, unveiled yesterday his first men's collection, for autumn/winter 2006.

Simons, who is a highly respected menswear designer but unknown outside fashion circles, was named as successor to Jil Sander last summer. Sander herself walked out of the company, which is owned by the Prada Group, in November 2004 and subsequent collections have been designed by an anonymous studio "team". By his debut it seems Simons is more than capable of creating powerful designs that segue with the established codes of this minimalist brand.

"It's a world I very much relate to and believe in," said Simons backstage.

Simons began with three basic proposals: an immaculate white shirt, a black schoolboy suit with narrow, tapered trousers contrasted with a roomy, one-button jacket and a voluminous Crombie coat in graphite-grey.

With barely a button or a single pleat to clutter his clean lines, the Belgian designer let the slick, lightweight tailoring speak for itself. Innovative fabrics - a house tradition - came in the form of iridescent cotton nylon, subtly embroidered polyester and elephant-grey papery leather.

Simons, 38, who trained as an industrial designer, recently celebrated a decade of his own label, which is based in Antwerp and shown on the catwalk in Paris. Unlike Sander and Helmut Lang, whose name also belongs to Prada, he has not sold his brand. He is often cited as being the most influential menswear designer in the world, responsible for sparking many of the most enduring men's fashion trends including the skinny suits now familiar both on the high street and on international catwalks.

Next month the first Jil Sander womenswear collection by Simons, who has never before designed female clothing, will be presented in Milan.

Playing fast and loose with the history of British menswear, Burberry Prorsum designer Christopher Bailey yesterday put pinstriped three-piece suits cut in a slim Savile Row silhouette with punks' studded leather belts and knitted pompom hats.

The Burberry trenchcoat next autumn is not only gabardine but thick wool herringbone or black quilted nylon - the latter, an apparent nod to the Husky jackets that appeal to Italian men.

For evening, aubergine velvet suits and blood-red cummberbands stopped just short of convention. Even the Duke of Windsor, who was named as inspiration for this collection, wouldn't have worn it that way. But if anybody is capable of re-writing fashion history it is Bailey, who was recently named British Designer of the Year and is credited with revitalising Burberry.

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