Sander and Bertelli Split Again

Jil Sander’s on-again, off-again role at the company that bears her name is off again. The designer has departed the Prada-owned firm.

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The designer and the Prada ceo seemed at ease with one another at a joint interview in May of last year to tout Sander’s homecoming. “Now that Jil Sander has returned, we are very happy and we are sure we’ll find not only energy and the right strategy to increase sales, but also, above all else, give Jil Sander that same kind of impulse Jil Sander provided with her very first show,” said Bertelli, who, during the interview, laughed at Sander’s jokes, clowned around and downplayed the comments he’d made in the past.

And his wish appeared to be coming true. The collections that Sander crafted since her return garnered praise from retailers and critics alike, culminating with her most recent effort. The spring-summer 2005 collection, featuring delicately pleated shirts and structured but soft coats, was considered one of her strongest.

One source said that Bertelli had even learned to keep his distance by rarely traveling to Hamburg and giving Sander creative freedom.

It doesn’t look like that was enough for Sander, who built up her namesake label herself and was used to working as a one-woman show for decades. “She could not answer to a higher force,” said a source close to the designer. “That’s just not her style.”

Another source close to Prada said that Sander had a hard time reconciling her creativity with the need to contain costs — the issue that caused the split between the pair the first time. “She didn’t necessarily watch the price tag,” he said.

The pressure for Sander to watch expenses was vital for Bertelli this time around, both because Jil Sander AG continues to operate in the red and Prada is moving to pay down its debt in order to prepare for an initial public offering no later than next June. The most recent financial results from Jil Sander came in August. The numbers for the first six months of 2004 include sales of the spring-summer collection, her first design effort since her return.

They show an improvement, but there’s still a way to go before the brand is back in the black. Sales for the six months ended June 30 rose 4 percent to 65.4 million euros, or $84.7 million, and the company expects a further increase in the second part of the year. Cost-cutting helped Jil Sander narrow its losses before extraordinary operations to 17 million euros, or $22 million, from 20 million euros, or $25.9 million, the year before.
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