Raf Simons is leaving Jil Sander, the fashion house that he has guided since 2005. His departure becomes official Monday, two days after he presents his women’s fall 2012 collection—his last for the company.
The brand plans to announce Simons’s successor as creative director in the next few days, but already rumors are flying—sparked by a report in a German magazine—that his replacement will be the company’s namesake and founder: Jil Sander herself. (A brand spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.)
Simons arrived at the label after the company had weathered more than five years of financial and creative turmoil. Since its 1968 founding in Germany, the fashion house had risen to fame thanks to its technologically advanced fabrics, attention to detail, and minimalist, almost masculine, sensibility, . During her tenure, Sander—blonde, German, and a driven perfectionist—moved the fashion industry toward an ascetism that dominated much of the 1990s. She also used her runway to champion an army of white, blonde, hyper-skinny models that eventually led to the near death of diversity on catwalks in general.
In 1999, when corporations such as Gucci Group (now the PPR Luxury Group) and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton were buying up independent high-end brands, Sander sold a controlling interest in her label to Prada. That sale unleashed a string of personality clashes, financial problems, and creative disagreements. The brand was sold, and then sold again to venture-capital firms. Sander left her brand, returned, then finally departed for good.
By the time Simons arrived, the once-storied and decidedly modern house had been significantly tarnished. Simons, who had his own menswear line, focused on cut and details. He was inspired by artists and photographers. He embraced technology. And most recently, his use of bold, fluorescent color widely influenced the womenswear industry, bringing life and joy to runways that had been blanketed by shades of black, charcoal, and gray.
Simons’s work has been critically acclaimed, but it has also found favor with retailers, many of whom had grown dispirited with the line once its founder departed.
For her part, Sander launched a fashion consultancy and recently ended a collaboration with the Japanese mass merchant Uniqlo.
Simons’s departure from Jil Sander further fuels rumors that he is heading to Christian Dior—or even Yves Saint Laurent. (A spokesperson for the Paris-based Dior had no comment.) The fashion house has been without a creative director since John Galliano was fired in March 2011.
In the interim, the house has been led by Bill Gaytten. After a rocky beginning, Gaytten’s work for the house has been applauded by critics, and revenue at Dior ticked upwards at the end of last year by 15 percent.
Gaytten is expected to present Dior’s fall 2012 women’s ready-to-wear collection in Paris on March 2.