Fashion designer Jil Sander on crafting a modern global uniform

Published November 23, 2021, 11:39 AM

by John Legaspi

Uniqlo’s long-time collaborator shares her fashion vision, her life during the pandemic, and her experience working with the global retail brand

Collaboration is not new in the fashion industry. But keeping a good one that spans for more than a decade is a rare sight. Partners must both demonstrate commitment, design prowess, and adaptability to change. All three of those can be said about the working relationship between global retail brand Uniqlo and German designer Jil Sander. Starting their fashion duet, +J, in 2009 with the “Open the Future” collection, the mark of their Chapter 1, the two industry giants created a mega alliance that lasted for 12 years.

Jil Sander and a piece from her latest collaboration collection with Uniqlo

Last year, Jil came back to work with the brand to launch Chapter 2 of their collaboration with fall-winter 2020 and spring-summer 2021 collections. Closing it is their latest line of fall and winter staples, celebrating new beginnings and hope as people in all parts of the globe rediscover the world.

“This winter’s collection concentrates on distinctive silhouettes, sensual textures, and luxurious tailoring, which respond to our new sense of comfort: Sophistication for everyone,” she says. “We return to social life, but we want to feel protected. The collection explores new oversize silhouettes with a controlled fit and variations of substantial winter classics.”

A true force of fashion, Jil Sander tells more about the latest collection with an exclusive interview with the brand. She also gives everyone a glimpse of her design process during the pandemic and what it is like to work with Uniqlo over the years.

What has changed between the first chapter of +J (2009) and the second chapter (2020) and what has stayed the same?

First of all, Uniqlo grew almost tenfold and became a truly international company with stores all over the world. It proved that it can shoulder the required output and keep its high standard. In 2009 already, it had the know-how, the techniques, and the logistics to establish +J successfully, a line that is based on the highest quality, fabric research, and fine craftsmanship. When we reactivated +J, the collections grew accordingly.

It made me very happy to reach so many customers in all parts of the world and to achieve the +J mission of providing a modern global uniform, offering value, smart understatement, and carefully forged contemporary silhouettes. Its team became even more professional over the years, from the beginning, it was extremely attentive and helpful in devising new ways of doing things. I feel a strong affinity to the Japanese culture and work ethics, to the love of quality and precision, the readiness to respond to demanding ideas, the urge to innovate, and the willingness to experiment and start from zero, if needed.

Womenswear pieces from +J fall-winter 2021

In the three seasons of the second chapter of the collaboration (20FW, 21SS, 21FW), what are the most memorable or favorite products?

I don’t really have favorites, but I am especially fond of the range of great coats we designed over the years, of their timeless modernity, their statement quality, and the democratic prices we were able to ask, due to Uniqlo market power.

What did you think and feel during the pandemic?

Nature became much more important. In the countryside, you could move quite freely, and the beauty of our garden gave us back optimism. It was good to care for plants and take long walks in the woods and meadows. For almost two years, we were unable to travel to Tokyo. The collections were conceived entirely on a digital basis. But as it turned out, virtuality and seclusion didn’t present greater problems and things worked out fine. This is largely the fruit of our ongoing Uniqlo collaboration and the familiarity of our teams. We knew each other well and had trust in each other.

As to my ideas during the pandemic, I was confident that we would master them eventually. Intense work on the +J collections kept me focused, and I had ample time to reflect on the mental and social changes the pandemic brought with it. We became more humble and grateful for the civilization we are graced with, and for our collected know-how which is finding its way out of that terrible challenge.

Menswear pieces from +J fall-winter 2021

What have you gained from this 12-year relationship, and what do you hope to apply in the future?

My +J project was to bring the quality and sophistication of my high fashion experience to a large audience and to offer attractive, modern uniforms to a widely connected, discerning urbane customer. The ambitious goal was to approach the people of today’s world, assist them through clothes in their self-assurance and in their readiness to engage in common goals. It was very rewarding and almost stupefying to me how Uniqlo managed to produce our very demanding collections on a global scale without a blink of an eye.

+J’s fall-winter 2021 collection is now available at the Uniqlo Manila Global Flagship Store, online at, and select items in all stores.