Tribal Quest

Jil Sander enters the fine jewelry arena.


Diamonds, amethysts, Tahitian pearls and topaz: Baubles are the stuff of Tinseltown and the glitzy set, but at his spring show in Milan in September, Jil Sander’s minimalist maestro, Raf Simons, made them his own.

Much to the delight of the audience, the label best known for its spare-to-the-bones ethos debuted its first collection of jewelry. “We tried to free our minds from restrictions of what is typically seen as Jil Sander and what is not,” says Simons of the limited-edition line, which includes 24 sets of earrings and two bracelets, done in collaboration with Damiani. Thus, amid fabulous fringe and cutaway jackets, the runway also flaunted majorly inventive earrings—thin, curved bars of gold, some with tiny clusters of gemstones, that dangled gently on both sides of the lobe like weighted scales.

As for the inspiration behind those spear-shaped designs, Simons cites “African tribal on the aesthetic feeling and Twenties in the material and finishing.” Still, showgoers knew they weren’t in for a kitschy Out of Africa romp the second they hustled into the company’s headquarters on Via Beltrami early that morning. The demonstrative backdrop—telling projections of Man Ray’s Black and White, a 1926 portrait of Kiki de Montparnasse next to an African mask—quickly faded to stark white the second the first model appeared. The message: Any thematic glances here would be filtered through Jil Sander’s minimalist, modernist lens.

Simons’s new finery is sleek and delicately elegant. “We did not want to have heavy decorative jewelry,” he says. “There was this idea of bringing together two ideas in a way that looks neither ethnic nor historic nor retro.”