JIL SANDER | THE MEIERS

LUKE and LUCIE MEIER

In the midst of Paris Men’s Fashion Week for fall/winter 2020/21, I am on a phone call with Luke and Lucie Meier, creative directors of Jil Sander; the duo have just returned to Milan from Florence after presenting the Jil Sander collection as guests of Pitti Uomo.
The Meiers have been transforming what we know of Jil Sander since they took over three years ago as joint creative directors, at a moment when the label’s direction had seemed woefully confused. The first couple appointed in such a position at a major fashion house, their work is considered both sophisticated and inviting, aligning with chief assets of the brand such as tailoring and preserving the minimalist blueprint that Jil Sander is known for.

FILEP MOTWARY: Congratulations on your recent presentation at the Pitti Uomo. How was that experience for you to return to Florence?

LUCIE MEIER: It was really nice actually. That’s really special as we hadn’t really been back since we spent a lot of time there. So it still kind of feels like home in a way. There’s a really warm feeling there, it felt really special, it was really nice to be back there.

FM: And what about you, Luke?

LUKE MEIER: Yeah, we’ve been through Florence many times because we develop a lot of things and there’s a lot of makers there, fabric mills. But to come there and see something in the city and really be part of Pitti, felt really nice. It’s also a nice beginning after taking a break.
I think people enjoy being in Florence actually because it’s not quite the same madness as when you’re in Paris or Milan. Not everyone’s trying to run somewhere and trying to fight for a taxi or something. So it’s quite nice that you can be with a lot of people that actually have kind of an ability to stop and look and think about things and that’s just an enjoyable bit. I think Florence is kind of this environment for that, where you really take time to enjoy and the Fiorentini, they have quite perfected the art of living.

FM: I want to ask you about Jil Sander, if I may, and your perception of the brand before you took over, and whether your views changed later?

LUKE: I think there is always an external and an internal, [they are] almost never the same no matter what you kind of consider. I think we’d been very actively following the brand for a very long time and we really had a strong idea of the image, the values and we were quite familiar with a lot of the work and the tasks. Then coming to the inside, you felt that there was still some of the values there and I feel we share a lot of the values with the initial concept of the brand, like this kind of enjoyment of the rigour and the non-compromise approach. Also with what
Ms Sander did and how she built everything. We really care about singularly putting it in a Jil Sander context. That’s kind of what we like and how we operate. So I think then coming inside a house, you know the challenges or the things that you want to change or perhaps the approach you want to adjust a little bit. Now we’re quite a few years in and I think we’ve been able to kind of push things in a way that we think is the right way and the way that feels good. So, the inside is starting to kind of align with the idea we have more and more.

FM: Aha. I’m wondering what was expected from you when you first took over? How were the first days working for Jil Sander? And how has this changed, now that you have been there three years already?

LUKE: I think the expectation was to kind of work on the image as well as the product. And I think that Lucie and I are both quite obsessive and we’ve gone quite deep into every aspect of everything: from designing the collections to the image, any of the visuals to the Instagram, we’ve just rebuilt the website that should be launching very soon, to even working on restructuring some of the ways that development and production work. We’re really insistent on every aspect, like really, truly, every aspect.

FM: And I’m wondering, Lucie, what was your relationship with menswear prior to Jil Sander?

LUCIE: Well, I never had worked on menswear before.!Luke and I obviously have been together for a very long time and [with] him working on menswear, obviously we would talk a lot about menswear… But again, in a way we don’t really look at it as menswear and womenswear, neither [do] we approach it in a different way. Obviously, the men’s is closer to Luke in a way because he can actually try things on, he wears things, he experiences things. What I do with the women’s clothes is not so different and we work on both collections together, so it’s really natural. So it’s quite interesting in that I think we very much enjoy also to have both our eyes and both collections.

FM: Looking at the timeline of Luke’s career—I will use this word—as you were at Supreme and now OAMC, both of those brands were more about sportswear, I would say. How different is Jil Sander from what you were designing for Supreme and are  still creating for OAMC? And what arethe requirements? I would love to hear how you divide them.

LUKE: Supreme from the outside is maybe a different product whilst at OAMC we also have done quite a bit of tailoring there—all of it is developed in Italy and most of it’s made in Italy. So, it’s not so far away from a practice, if you will, for the development of Jil Sander. But I think what’s interesting is that, on the outside, things look really different, especially we always get the question of well, Lucie comes from Dior or Balenciaga and I come from Supreme.

It’s kind of a first step in [one’s] career really and at the end of the day, the sort of intensity of the process behind [it] is pretty much the same in both. The real difference becomes the price tag on the fabric or the depth or the type of technique you have on a particular garment. So as far as the analysis and the thought process and the creative development and consideration for everything [goes], it’s pretty much the same thing. That’s nice because the approach is the same but the goal is always a bit different, you know?

I’ve been able to, in my working stages, really work on things that I was really interested in knowing personally at the time. So I’m very much interested in what we’re doing with Jil Sander and obviously in a different way but sort of those two worlds are kind of what I like personally for myself as well. So it’s not really like an exercise in projecting an image of some sort. It’s very intimately persona for me.

FM: Yeah, I can see that. I’m wondering how challenging it is for you guys to, let’s say, breathe life into a fashion house that has existed for half a century with such a turbulent history in terms of changing creative directors and management. I mean it’s had its ups and downs so many times. How did you react to this—to the history of the brand you represent today?

LUKE: To be honest, I don’t think we really thought about that. We’re aware of it but as far as working [goes], it didn’t really matter to us because it’s a bit in the past. What we found quite powerful about the brand is the fact that it’s less of a DNA idea and it’s more of an approach. Like it always should be modern thinking, it should always be facing forward and not rehashing it and revisiting the past through any kind of archive or anything.
It’s really to be looking forward and to think about today and what matters and what kind of resonates with us and then with people today.

And that is very liberating as a concept for work because you kind of just think forward, like what do you want. And that’s kind of something where you have to just see things and work on things and search for the feeling and if the feeling is right then it’s kind of what it should be, in a way. Rather than worrying too much about, “Are you doing something right or wrong?” It’s not really ever about that.

FM: I am 100% with what you just described, but Jil Sander is a brand that is engraved in people’s heads because—especially for those coming from the 90s generation—it was a huge brand that all of a sudden kind of disappeared. Then it had a bit of a rise with Raf Simons; Rodolfo [Paglialunga] was not as strong but then you guys took over and here it is again on top and people not only talk about it but actually buy it as well.

LUKE: I guess you can kind of also get a bit blocked if that’s too much on the shoulders, you know, when you work. Like in a way, it’s maybe something where at first we have enormous respect for the house and for the history, but I think it was really important that we said, “OK”. Again, inherently we have, you know, an appreciation and a belief in the initial approach to things and why you do something a certain way and how it has to be. Sharing that, it kind of gave us the confidence to say, “Well, we [will] go this way and that’s the way we feel it’s right”. If you’re not trying to figure out that and instead, you’re just going with what feels right, then it’s much more authentic and much more sustainable as far as an exercise, on our side.

LUCIE: We really love this brand, like we have loved it, you know, same as you, like it’s been kind of part of our upbringing in a way as well and really part of the 90s and all this when we were students who started working. So I think we also wanted to see this brand being really strong and relevant because it’s so relevant at the end of the day. We felt really it was a great opportunity to be part of the house’s history. We were really excited about it.

FM: And I’m wondering, what is the biggest challenge that the brand has faced, in the three years since you took over? Or that it’s still facing? Maybe it hasn’t been solved yet.

LUKE: I guess making sure that we stay kind of on the path that we’re on as there’s a lot of things that we want to continue expanding and continue building. We’re happy to go quite deep into everything and have a solid step every season.

FM: Has anything yet been sacrificed to sort of achieve what was commercially expected of you?

LUKE: Not really, no. Because, at the same time, if you think about the core customer that’s stayed with the brand for a very long time, that person still really understands why there’s a certain value in a double face construction coat or a certain kind of poplin
shirting or a canvas lapel on a jacket. That knowledge is still there in the customer and we also appreciate that and want to also share that approach with a new or younger customer as well. So that the rigour and the quality level, we’ve only really pushed harder for that to increase. It’s really important for us and I think that there is…

LUCIE: … no compromise.

LUKE: Yeah… and so far, on the commercial side, that type of product has been welcomed.

FM: What is the balance, let’s say, between refining the signature of the house each season and doing something new at the same time? Or is there a balance that you want to keep? Or you just have a blank page and you just take it from there?

LUKE: It’s quite a blank page, but I think, at the same time, our general approach is not to wipe the slate clean and start from zero every season. We enjoy the idea of progression. I think it’s a bit unrealistic to get to a real depth if you start from zero and expect that you’re going to get there in four months. It’s very limiting. I mean, of course, there’s always going to be new things and unexpected things, but I think there are also certain elements that kind of take a longer time period to get right.

There are things that we even develop on the side that maybe are initiated at the beginning of a season but then don’t arrive in a collection for two, three or four seasons until it’s properly developed. We want people to have the confidence that [when] they get something from any particular season, it’s not engineered to be relevant [only] then and then we start over and what just happened was something that’s over already and then you have to get something new again. It’s more of a macro, longer development idea than a seasonal check, you know?

FM: Aha. I want to focus on the spring/summer 2020 menswear collection. There’s a laid back attitude in the man you are presenting for the summer. Not in the sense that he doesn’t care, but he appears to be someone who is certain of himself and has experience and has education…

LUKE: Well he seems pretty cool and that’s actually quite a good thing. For spring/summer 2020 we really wanted to do something elegant and very, very soft actually because for the season before, we had quite a strict silhouette. Summer needed to be relaxed, with ideas that have a bit more fluidity and a bit more volume. So that’s kind of why that ended up developing more into that feeling.

LUCIE: It was also really about tailoring because we had decided the winter was quite a strong, tailoring statement and then we wanted to kind of show it in a different way for the summer which was more like the tab lapels and looser shapes, into a much easier way of wearing tailoring. Because that’s kind of a contrast.

FM: These clothes sort of contained a very clear dialogue between the garments and the actual body wearing them. And I’m wondering how does the body—as an object to design onto or to use as a tool—how does it appeal to your creative process when you start a collection? Is that an important factor or not?

LUCIE: The body is very important for us [in] that the clothes are worn by people and that they really come alive. It’s vital for us to continue to try our garments [on], we need to fit in them, we wear the clothes ourselves. It’s important how you feel in the clothes or how you wear the clothes: what do they evoke in you? There is a real relationship between the two that is significant to us, that’s really the basis of everything.

LUKE: Yeah, I guess that’s the element of the autobiographical because I think we really care about feeling something on and how it touches your skin or how it strengthens your shoulders or even elongates you a little bit, or it’s something that’s protective and cocooning. All of these things, as much as we like an image, equally important is the materialization, the make, but then also that’s the moment that you are inside and you feel it around you.
So it’s less of an image of a body and a kind of sculpting kind of concept of like looking at it from afar. It’s more of an intimate relationship of when you put something on, what does it feel like, you know? How do you respond to that? And that I think is something really important.

FM: And although for menswear it was quite a minimal collection, it involved a lot of craftsmanship, a lot of handmade elements: embroidery, prints, the ways you used leather. You could tell that there was a lengthy process behind many of these pieces. Why is it important for you to reflect the hands-on process in the clothes?

LUKE: Besides a visual decoration that we like, it’s not really about decoration. I think for us handmade is always about the concept around time. And the fact that, more than ever, luxury is about time. So to see something handmade, it’s not only the time it takes to physically make that element that’s on the piece, but it’s also the time it takes somebody to learn how to do it at that level. It’s kind of the same idea as tailoring. If you think about the level that you need to tailor a jacket, you know, just to learn how to do that correctly, but then when it’s handmade and its hand-tailored, that also takes a certain amount of time. It’s not something that’s industrial.
With craft and with the human touch, the beauty, of course, is a lot of the time it’s like a natural material. It’s either like a leather or wool yarn or sometimes a cotton or linen yarn. But it’s also just this signifier: time and how luxurious it is to have that. You know, the time involved to make something at that level.

FM: What is the most important aspect of your creative process or your creative obsessions? Is there a ritual that you follow or even something to do with the communication between you two?

LUKE: That’s probably the initial most important element actually: our conversation at the beginning of any season because we really sit down and we talk probably for quite a while, maybe [for] about a week. We kind of really go back and forth about what’s important and what we’re after. You know, again more at an abstract level talking about feeling and why and how, rather than individual things. And then the whole process starts and different kinds of research [begins]. We’re looking at material, fabrics, colours, and then sketching and this kind of stuff. So I think that probably, the critical point is the beginning conversation.

LUCIE: Even that dialogue, initial conversation is at the same time as an ongoing dialogue. Because obviously when you’re constantly working together on creative ideas, like no matter what it is, which collection you’re working on, you always think of other things so it’s like an ongoing dialogue that we have where we think of ideas or whatever we see or whatever surrounds us. So it’s constantly feeding that conversation in a way.

FM: And what about the way you communicate this work once you are done? How do you plan the visual communication of it? What is the aim behind it? And I would like to know more about your collaboration with… this was with Olivier Kervern, no?

LUCIE: Mm-hmm.

FM: And I hear that you go on trips especially to document each collection.

LUKE: Yeah, because we’ve done, I guess now three of them. Or four of them? Four of them. I mean we really, really love to be with the photographer and also with our art director, Heiko Keinath. We also like to kind of have a very spontaneous sort of situation rather than a really kind of controlled studio environment—going on a road trip or spending some time with somebody over the course of a few days. There is always this kind of moment of a certain energy or a certain mood. You know, it’s natural that that happens, so there may be some more exciting time or there’s some more, maybe like serene moments. And I think that in that you can find those images in that time and that environment that just kind of opens the lines, you know? So, we’ve kind of really enjoyed doing those trips.

LUCIE: It’s also nice because you spend like four days travelling together, always in a very small team—that we just basically keep it as small as possible. So just spending time with the talent, the photographer, and it’s a great, different relationship with a different energy between everybody. And it just becomes much more, yeah, intimate, the whole thing.

FM: Are you emotional about the clothes you create once you present them or not?

LUCIE: I think we’re very attached to our clothes, we put a lot of love and energy into them. And so yeah, we’re very attached to them. Emotionally attached.

FM: What does the term “modern” mean to you?

LUCIE: Modern. It’s a funny word.

FM: Each of us has such a different way of defining it, so especially people who work in fashion. It’s a question that I always ask
in my interviews. But I’m really interested to see what “modern” is to each of these people that I am honored to speak to.

LUCIE: I think modern is probably something that fits somehow the moment, you know, like the way you live or the way you express… It is something that works, I guess. It’s something that’s changing constantly. Even if you think of clothes, like something modern, it’s like now, maybe. Something that you can travel with easily or it’s like whatever is important maybe to each individual person that fits them.

FM: So speaking of fashion as a general idea, the sense of fashion, is it a natural gift or is it a language that one needs to learn as a process? I always ask this question.

LUKE: I think it’s a little bit of both because sometimes there’s kind of this innate… you know, certain people have an easy time kind of understanding or approaching things. Others sometimes maybe takes them a little bit of time to understand or to appreciate certain things. I think fashion, it’s sort of a bit thrown around quite liberally without maybe a very precise definition, and I think it’s quite a loaded word. Fashion in a positive light, it can be something that sort of signifies a bit of a consideration for things.

You know, just like anything else. Like you consider the way you present yourself either because you want to express your own idea or because you want to sort of acknowledge an environment that you’re in or, you know, an event or a ceremony or even a meeting or an engagement you have with another person.
So when you say something’s fashionable, you know, to me in a positive way it means something that’s considered and that’s very
well thought[-out], and that that doesn’t necessarily mean cheap or expensive or decorative or purely functional. It just means well considered.

FM: I see your point. I don’t want to keep you but before I let you go, I want to ask something a bit personal since you are together in life as well. What is companionship for you and how is it reflected in your work do you think? If it is. Maybe it’s not.

LUKE: No, I think it’s in the work as far as, sort of, you know, combined tastes maybe. But companionship at its core is about trust. And the reason we enjoy working together is that we have somebody that in any circumstance, in any environment, through any challenge that we have to navigate, there’s somebody that’s always there that you trust 100% without even ever second guessing. There’s never an ulterior motive, there’s never, you know, a misalignment about anything. And that’s the gist actually of the idea of companionship; that really there’s this absolute not-questioned trust.

The interview was originally published in Dapper Dan Magazine issue #21 – season SS2020

Portrait – photographed by Peter Lindbergh

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SHORT BIO

Luke and Lucie Meier are the aesthetic epitome of the work-life balance. Before their appointment as the creative director duo of Jil Sander, Luke worked as the head designer of Supreme and co-founded the brand OAMC, while Lucie joined Dior as head designer after working at Louis Vuitton and Balenciag