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Is Jil Going Home Again? Bertelli Said to Be in a Wooing Mood

MILAN — As fashion rumors go, it’s practically a classic.But three years after Jil Sander’s messy divorce from Prada Group,...

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It’s no wonder. Sander enjoys cult status as a designer, and her loyal followers have been mourning her absence from the business, secretly pining for her return, while continuing to sell the Vukmirovic-designed Jil Sander collection.

"She’s been gone for three years, but we still have gone and bought the line," said one retailer. "But it’s a different brand now, and a different customer. It’s a bit more razzamatazz. The women who is wearing Cavalli is buying Jil Sander."

As discreet and unpredictable as her clothes are exacting, Sander has firmly held her tongue about her intentions for three years. Curiosity spiked anew last January, when her non-compete clause with Prada Group expired, leaving her free to start a fashion venture if she so desired.

Sander’s silence has spawned an endless stream of rumors, which have had her headed to Hermès, Banana Republic and Dunhill. All those rumors were later denied by the respective companies.

But most speculation has centered on her returning to the brand she painstakingly built over more than 20 years — and abruptly quit after vicious battles with Bertelli over pricing, fabric sourcing and creative issues.

Creative autonomy for fashion designers recently made headlines with Tom Ford, creative director of Gucci Group, making it clear he would exit the company if majority owners Pinault-Printemps-Redoute start meddling in his affairs. Some industry sources suggest Ford’s posturing in the face of his owners might have emboldened Sander and bolstered her bargaining position with Bertelli.

Also, it is believed Helmut Lang, whose company Prada bought in 1999, enjoys firm control of product, communication and image.

"The most probable and the most recommendable solution is for Jil Sander and Patrizio Bertelli to get back together," said Armando Branchini, a luxury goods consultant in Milan. "It’s in both their interests. There is a niche to fill with that brand and it has so much potential to grow."

What kind of impact might a Sander comeback have?

It would unleash a media bonanza, to be sure, and make Sander’s return show the hottest ticket in fashion. Industry consultants and retailers also suspect it would ignite the Sander business anew.
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