Since 1968, when Jil Sander founded her label, clothes bearing her name have been about simplicity and strength, and worn by elegant women who exert their power without fuss. Behind the scenes, however, there hs been plenty of drama: Sander came and went three times —as many times as the company itself changed corporate hands. After she left for good a little more than a year ago, one of the most beleaguered human resources departments in the business set out to replace her once again.
If the idea was to keep the design studio as smart and serene as the runway, the company chose wisely when it selected the Italian designer Rodolfo Paglialunga. He was not a gamble, having shown hard enough resolve to revive Vionnet, the house originally helmed by every fashion geek’s hero, Madeleine Vionnet. There, Paglialunga developed relationships with picky stars like Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Carey Mulligan, andDiane Kruger; before that, he spent 14 years withMiuccia Prada, 10 of them directing her women’s wear collection.
Paglialunga, 47, lives in Milan and practices rebirthing, a breathing technique, for stress reduction. Though he admits he gave man skirts a try in the ’80s, today his uniform consists of vintage cotton work pants, penny loafers, and crewneck sweaters.
Unlike many of his peers, Paglialunga is not given to bombastic pronouncements on luxury, femininity, or what’s modern. But, clearly, he thinks about all those things, as his Jil Sander debut attested. It was a focused study in androgynous day wear—with split skirts, apron dresses, obi belts, schoolgirl button-downs, and a recurring geometric motif that brought to mind redacted documents.
Although this is just the beginning for Paglialunga, die-hard Jil Sander fans can be sure that the brand will remain true to its exacting spirit. “A lot of people told me that the collection was too Jil Sander,” he confides, referring to the pressure designers face to make their mark on heritage brands. “But to me that’s a compliment!”
Paglialunga was hired by Prada in 1996 where he rose to become the womenswear design director. In 2009, he was tapped by Matteo Marzotto and Gianni Castiglioni to spearhead Vionnet, which is remembered historically for couturier Madeleine Vionnet’s 1920’s grecian gowns.
The group said Paglialunga’s first collection with Jil Sander will debut in September for the spring summer 2015 women’s season. “I have boundless admiration for the brand, as I strongly believe in its pure vision and values,” Paglialunga said in a press release.
Jil Sander left her eponymous company for the third time in October of 2013. Prior to that, Raf Simons served as the creative director there for seven years.
Sander left the brand she started in the late 60s for the first time in 1999, after selling 75 percent of her company to the Prada Group. Jil Sander was later sold by Prada to Change Capital Partners in 2006. It is now owned by Japan’s Onward Holdings.
It’s unclear what wave of changes are in store for the Jil Sander brand, which last season produced its collection without a lead designer. But Jil Sander’s Chief Executive Officer Alessandro Cremonesi hinted at a long-lasting union between the brand and Paglialunga.
“We are very confident about this decision,” Cremonesi said in a press release. “We have identified the right talent that with coordinated assets in terms of personality and design skill will be able to raise our creative excellence to achieve new fashion marks.” Paglialunga said he is focused on propelling the brand into the future. “My aim is to carry forward the fusion between sophistication, luxury, and innovation and bring the house into the next level,” Paglialunga added.