©John Phillips

The first time Lucie and Luke Meier met in Florence, in 2001, they were students at the Polimoda fashion school. Now, nearly 20 years later, they are a married fashion-designer couple and are back in the Italian city as co-Creative Directors of Jil Sander – the brand that has taken a ride as bumpy as Florentine cobbles since its founder ended her stop-go presence.

But now that the duo has brought a thoughtful, nature-loving style to a brand based originally on purity, the company has come back to fashion’s forefront. Hence the show that is taking place at the Pitti Imagine fashion fair, where they are guest designers for Autumn/Winter 2020.

The Jil Sander Duo Go Back To School In Florence-1
©Pietro D’Aprano / Getty

“Nature is always a big inspiration for us; it’s part of our lives and we really wanted to get away from a sterile world,” says Lucie, who was raised in Switzerland with an Austrian mother and German father and whose memories are of her family’s restaurant up in the Alps and of her mother being “a big Jil Sander fan”.

The Jil Sander Duo Go Back To School In Florence-2

Luke has an English mother and Swiss father and was born in Canada. He worked for eight years in the US as designer of the ultra-cool Supreme skateboard/hip-hop brand, where he was steeped in American music culture. Moving to Europe after leaving Supreme in 2014, he co-founded the brand OAMC – “Over All Master Cloth” – best described as giving cool to quality, luxury streetwear. The mixing of places and minds, from both designers, has harmonised the new Jil Sander image.

The Jil Sander Duo Go Back To School In Florence-3

“It is interesting to be here in Italy, because we are definitely not Italian in our mentality,” says Luke, who, like his wife, also recently worked in Paris. Together, they have created a fresh image for Jil Sander – one that has grown organically from its existing roots.

“I think it is a good thing to feel a bit displaced, because it makes you reflect about yourself,” Luke says. “The first time I started working here, I was so nervous before the collection arrived. But the Italians have this ability, out of nowhere, this ‘thing’ just materialises.”

The Jil Sander Duo Go Back To School In Florence-4
©John Phillips / Getty
The Jil Sander Duo Go Back To School In Florence-5
©John Phillips / Getty

The designer was referring to the soft tailoring, the crisp white cotton and the ever-present sense of nature in their collection, which features embroidered birds and greenery. This appears also as a wispy background to the shows or as Alpine flowers in the Jil Sander shop windows and interiors, which are currently being refurbished.

The Jil Sander Duo Go Back To School In Florence-6
©Jil Sander

I saw the light-hearted pop-up shop in Milan, where the designers are based, and also the newly-finished effect of simplicity with warmth in the Avenue Montaigne boutique in Paris. I remember the beautiful but chilly elegance that Jil Sander herself brought to the famous French fashion street when she opened in 1993, and I applaud the current regime change that is both respectful to the founder in the boutique’s clear, clean lines and appropriate to a general focus on nature in 2020.

The Jil Sander Duo Go Back To School In Florence-7

“In Paris, we wanted to create a feeling on a large scale, so the second room upstairs is all wood and the idea is to make it like a home,” Lucie explains. ”We were looking for something positive and people seem to feel good in the store.”

The Jil Sander Duo Go Back To School In Florence-8
©Jil Sander

This week’s show in Florence is more than a business move forward for Jil Sander, which was bought by the Japanese group, Onward Holdings, in 2008, while the founder was back on board as designer.

The Jil Sander Duo Go Back To School In Florence-9

Raffaello Napoleone, Chief Executive of Pitti Immagine, says that he has been following Lucie and Luke Meier’s work “with great interest”. “The desire to create collections that last is an idea that we think is contemporary, fresh, and something that we share,” the executive says. “Of course we try to mix international creativity with the Italian way of producing high-quality clothing or accessories. And we like the story that the couple was born as students in Florence at Polimoda.”

The Jil Sander Duo Go Back To School In Florence-10
©Saviko / Gamma-Rapho / Getty

Lucie has the more conventional fashion background of the duo, having designed for Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, and enjoyed a powerful position at Dior. But both of them have a quirky originality – as seen in the short films by Wim Wenders for their Autumn 2018 campaign. For nearly half that year, the Jil Sander ads spelled out surreal visions of passing time – without ever having a conclusion.

The Jil Sander Duo Go Back To School In Florence-11

Being together is one thing, working together is quite another, although Luke insists that “the idea is not really so new for us. We have had a long relationship of seeing things, discussing the aesthetics or points of view about all kinds of creative ideas and exchanging them with each other.”

The Jil Sander Duo Go Back To School In Florence-12
©Federico Torra / Jil Sander

“But we are really opposite in personality,” he continues. “She’s a Pisces and I am a Virgo, which is said to be complete and utter destruction – or really great harmony. And that is what we have established, even if we are very different people.”

A pair of prints – one of fish and another of virgin maidens – were an up-front reminder of their astrological signs in the Spring/Summer 2020 collection. Continuing in that spirit, there was a mix-it-up attitude of sleek tailoring and jersey drapes.

The Jil Sander Duo Go Back To School In Florence-13

The deliberate mix-and-match effect seemed harmonious on the runway – even if the two designers gave me different timings for their lives: ”Together 15 years and married for 11” from Luke, and “Married 12 years, together 17” from Lucie.

The peaceful combinations include Jil Sander herself, now 76. The German designer founded the brand back in 1966 and left conclusively in 2013, after various different ownerships.

The Jil Sander Duo Go Back To School In Florence-14
©ullstein bild

As Lucie explains, “A month after we joined the company, we went to Hamburg to meet her and she was really lovely – encouraging, supportive and positive. It felt very special.”

Although both are dedicated to their fashion work, Luke and Lucie have another commitment: teaching. They are both heading up the Department of Fashion Design at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna, and will speak at the Condé Nast International Luxury Conference in Vienna in April – one of many reasons that I wanted to talk to the Meiers and underline their contribution to emerging talent.

“We go once a month for three days and I find it really interesting to talk to very young people about the fashion industry, because their outlook is completely different to mine when I got interested in the business,” Luke explains.

“Of course, everybody complains about entitlement and the attitude of social media that we should care what someone had for lunch,” he continues. “But I think of fashion as a big mountain to climb, step by step, as you learn how to do pattern or a straight-grain fabric. On the West Coast of America, you get used to people saying they will have their own business tomorrow morning and be the king of the world, but there are some who understand the possibility of achieving deep craft and fashion-making skills.”

The Jil Sander Duo Go Back To School In Florence-15

This seems a convoluted way of expressing the design duo’s attitude: that fashion should be something that moves slowly – and lasts. The current Jil Sander collections have a way of developing ideas from past to present and future – not just in those tailored coats, but also in the mix of sharp and soft and the insistence on nature.

The Jil Sander Duo Go Back To School In Florence-16
©Miguel Medina / Getty

Luke offers the last word, by referring back to Jil Sander herself. “We hope she’s pleased,” he says. “We respect her point of view and the way she built the brand was fantastic, so we hope that she is smiling.”