It is a widely accepted truth that fashion has reached peak collaboration.
Virtually every combination has been realized: an indie brand teaming up with a fast-fashion company; the big-name designer collaborating on a line of affordable accessories; luxury European brands riffing off other luxury European brands.
When it has all been done before, how can a new collaboration feel necessary?
Ask Lucie and Luke Meier, the married creative directors of Jil Sander, which has kept up a fairly modest pace of collaborations, making raincoats for Mackintosh in 2019 and sandals for Birkenstocks this year. They’ll say it’s all about offering the highest levels of functionality and practicality.
Which is why their next collaboration, released widely on Nov. 10 (and two days earlier at a pop-up shop in New York), is a collection of men’s, women’s and unisex clothing for the Canadian technical outdoors brand Arc’teryx.
“There has to be a real reason to do them,” Mr. Meier said of collaborations. “It’s not just there to create hype. It’s genuinely things that we like and we feel are complementary to the world of Jil Sander.”
Though it does help that Arc’teryx happens to be incredibly hype-y. The brand is a staple of gorpcore, the campwear-as-streetwear look particularly popular among city-dwelling, jawn-copping men’s wear enthusiasts.
So while the collaboration is designed for skiing, snowboarding and outdoor sports, these pieces may end up being as prevalent in downtown Manhattan as they are on ski slopes. (Like the previous collaborations, this one falls under Jil Sander+, a sub-line of outerwear “for going to the mountains or seaside or countryside, where you want things to work and be functional, but you don’t want to give up your aesthetic,” Mr. Meier said.) Prices range between $1,500 and $2,500.
Here, in an edited interview from their studio in Milan, where they each wore shades of white against a white Zoom background, the designers talk about their approach to collaborations and how growing up in cold-weather climes (he in Vancouver, she in the Alps) influenced their work with Arc’teryx.
We’ve seen so, so many fashion collaborations in the last few years. How do you decide when to seek them out or to say yes when they come to you?
Luke Meier It’s a good buzzword, right? “Collaboration.” It’s newsworthy — people kind of perk up their ears when they hear about a collaboration. We really only want to do things that make sense, to create something that we couldn’t otherwise do ourselves. So it’s not purely about working with brands that somehow have a parallel objective for marketing.
We never want to just have two logos on a product. That’s not really that interesting, to be honest. So whether it was Mackintosh or Birkenstock or now with Arc’teryx, they’re all specialty brands. They have a very deep expertise in the things that they do.
With Arc’teryx, how did the process start?
Luke We would work on the shapes and make patterns, and then we would send it over to their developers, and they would help us engineer the pieces in the right way. So it was very much a product-driven dialogue at the beginning. Obviously we respect the Arc’teryx aesthetic, but we really wanted to pull it into the Jil Sander world and give it our aesthetic touch.
They were really supportive in walking us through some of the reasons they make things in certain ways. Even if it’s as simple as some draw cords they have on a coat, for example — they never have a loop because it could snag on something. Subtle things like that, that they’ve worked on over years and years.
But it’s the same on the other side, where we have people in our ateliers that have been working on Jil Sander pieces for over 20 years, where we have a dialogue with them about the shape of a shoulder or the way certain pieces should fit.
The collection was designed for mountain sports. Hobbies of yours?
Lucie Meier I grew up in Zermatt in a ski resort, so there was no way to escape it. And Luke was spending a lot of winters in Whistler in British Columbia. It’s something we’ve been doing since we were children and still really love. As soon as we can get out into the snow and the mountains, we go for it.
Luke We still get at least 20 days a year skiing. Milan is very nicely situated — you can get to the Alps really easily, really quickly. We also try to get back to Vancouver once a year, even just to the local mountains in the city, to go night-skiing or something.
So technical winter wear is something you’ve wanted to do for a while?
Lucie I mean, these kinds of pieces have been part of our life for a long time. It’s just that we wanted to have the right partner, so we waited until the time was right.
Luke I think it’s more and more difficult to find really beautiful garments that also work well. It’s kind of one of the other — you can get the really functional things that work incredibly well, but sometimes you feel like you’re an astronaut or something. You just wish it was a bit more beautiful with a bit more soul, and didn’t feel so plastic and industrial.
Is there one piece you’re partial to or that you feel is representative of the collection?
Luke I love the onesie.
Lucie I love the onesie, too.
Say more about the onesie.
Luke It’s a 3L Gore-Tex full suit, and it’s somewhat comforting, just to be sealed up, like you’re not going to have any snow go underneath your jacket hems. There’s a coziness to something that usually is quite nylon.
Lucie Maybe it’s nostalgia for childhood. It’s time to go back into a onesie.
Certainly that desire for comfort is something a lot of people have wanted from their clothes in the last year-and-a-half.
Luke But we always want that — even before all of the “homecore,” the loungewear, the idea that you’re sitting at home so you don’t have to get dressed up. We always want to be comfortable, even wearing a perfectly tailored suit. That’s really a part of our approach. It’s not about sacrificing for the look. You should also be able to —
Lucie — to feel good in what you wear.