Rodolfo Paglialunga, Jil Sander: \"Showing your vulnerability is a manifestation of strength\"

Rodolfo Paglialunga, Jil Sander: "Showing your vulnerability is a manifestation of strength"

Norman Tan

Image: Getty Image

Interview with the creative director of Jil Sander

Rodolfo Paglialunga, the creative director of Jil Sander, was invited by Bosco di Ciliegi to visit Moscow. We met to talk about good and bad habits, the state of the world we live in and, of course, what minimalism looks like in today's society.  

Rodolfo Paglialunga travelled to the Russian capital not just to see the Bolshoi Theatre and the Red Square. The main purpose of the visit was to show his new collection to the editors and clients in Moscow. Since taking over the reigns at Jil Sander two years ago, he has created both womenswear and menswear collections to international acclaim; praised by critics and fans alike. It seems that the house of Jil Sander, which was created by the founder of minimalism and developed by Raf Simons, is in safe hands.

Everyone has been talking about the pressure experienced by designers. I remember that Raf Simons said that he liked spending time in nature. How do you deal with the pressure?
Pilates helps a lot. I think that if you are experiencing stress and have to keep a million things in mind, it is important to concentrate on your own body instead of your thoughts. I also meditate; I have been practicing deep breathing techniques for about four years. I used to have weekly hour-long classes with a teacher. After an hour of deep breathing you feel as relaxed as after getting a massage. Now I am practicing on my own without a teacher, as and when I can — during a break at work, in the evening before bedtime, or in the morning to start the day right.

And it seems to be working. You're designing both menswear and womenswear lines, producing both seasonal and inter-seasonal collections.
And accessories as well, yes. It is really quite hard. These days you need to design a new collection almost every month. You never stop working and you have very little time left to format your brain to start working on something new. After one show is finished, you immediately start preparing for the next.

Rodolfo Paglialunga Interview - Women's FW16 collection

Rodolfo Paglialunga Interview - Men's FW16 collection

You know, it may sound strange, but from reading all your interviews the only thing I learnt about your character is that you are, quote, "not a party boy".
(Laughs). Well, yes, I'm not a party man at all. I am quite a private person, very guarded about my life outside of work. Of course, I was a party man when I was younger. I loved partying, going to clubs and all that. But now... I think I probably had enough. I like to meet people, talk to them, look each other in the eyes, discuss the important things or even argue over them. But when your life in one big party, it is impossible to build strong relationships and everything becomes too shallow. With age I prefer creating more meaningful relationships.

What about social media? Do you have an Instagram account?
I'm not a big fan of social media, but I do have an Instagram account. I do not post any photos, though. I'm very curious and I like to keep an eye on my friends to see what they are doing. It's funny to see what pictures the people you know choose to publish and what public image they are trying to create. It's all very cute and quite fun. I do not diminish the role that social networks play in modern fashion. But some people do take it too seriously. Most Instagram accounts seem very similar and it's really quite difficult to stand out, everything becomes boring very quickly.

What does minimalism mean today?
Minimalism doesn't mean that the woman I design for should be strong and tough all the time. Sensuality and strength, the latter being traditionally associated with masculinity and the former with femininity — I want to juxtapose these two opposites, to push them against each other. After all, humans can be strong and fragile at the same time, even the strongest of us who seem omnipotent. People are not machines. Perhaps, these days showing your vulnerability is a key manifestation of strength. It takes courage to acknowledge that you, too, can be vulnerable.

People are not machines. Perhaps, these days showing your vulnerability is a key manifestation of strength. It takes courage to acknowledge that you, too, can be vulnerable.

At Jil Sander you started working with menswear for the first time and designed the men's line for the brand. Please tell us about the experience. How did it differ from designing womenswear?
It was quite a challenge for me, as I hadn't worked with menswear before. But I like challenges. The creative process in both cases is absolutely identical. The main difference, of course, is in the bodyshape. Menswear and womenswear require very different cuts, and, after all, the designs are different.

They say that working with menswear is much more difficult than with womenswear, because you are limited in terms of design choices and embellishment. Womenswear traditionally has more detail to play with, while menswear, that is actually bought and worn, is quite strict and, perhaps, conservative.
Yes, there are more strict rules in menswear and it is not really acceptable to break them. The fabrics do change though: You can play with various materials, mix colors and color combinations. You can change the proportions and the silhouette slightly. There are many possibilities, but they are not as obvious as with womenswear, which traditionally has many more garments that are considered acceptable. And there's another rule: Men's collection has to reference the women's collection — at least at Jil Sander this is the case. I think it is interesting to see how similar ideas are transformed from womenswear to menswear. Our autumn-winter 2015 collection is a good example.

Jil Sander Women's FW15 collection

Jil Sander men's FW15 collection

Jil Sander collections in the nineties carried quite an obvious feminist message. Is there an ideology or a message in the label's collections today?
The times have changed. Then we still felt an aftertaste from the eighties — an era of conspicuous consumption, when fashion was bright, vivid and sparkling. We used to dress to impress, not to blend in. With the new decade there came a time of greater intimacy and we bought into a lifestyle, not just fashion. Minimalism penetrated everything: it was not only in fashion, but also in architecture, design and even our day-to-day living. Everyone wanted to be a minimalist. There were miniature revolutions happening every second. But now minimalism is just one of a million other trends, and you cannot consider it a major force or a movement anymore. The whole approach to fashion has changed.

Then you would come into a particular store, because you believed that the brand fitted your personality. You'd make a fashion choice based on how closely you and a group of people like you, who share your values, relate to the ideology of the brand. And you would create your entire wardrobe around the items by that brand. Everything is different now. People have much better access to information; they know everything about fashion, they buy from a number of various brands and create their own style, which is much more individual.

Are you saying that brands shouldn't really have an ideology anymore? 
Or even if they do, nobody would really pay attention anyway?
Yes. Exactly.

So the people who buy fashion do not care if a brand carries a message or not?
I think so. Now people are just buying clothes and their choices are not guided by what they see on the catwalk. Rather, they relate to what they see on the streets and in other places they frequent. They do not visit one store specifically; they shop around, going from one store to the next. If they like something, they buy it; if they don't like anything — it's easy just to go next door. You walk around the city, seeing different things, buying something, while you keep a certain image in mind and don't really think about big ideas.

People have much better access to information; they know everything about fashion, they buy from a number of various brands and create their own style, which is much more individual.

You know, on one hand, it sounds great — the supremacy of personal style and all. But on the other hand, it sounds sad somehow.
Yes, I also think it is sad somehow. But, you see, fashion is changing very quickly, every two months there is something new. In times like these it's hard to create something really significant or revolutionary, just because you don't have time for reflection. Perhaps, that's the reason why most collections now consist of relatively simple designs made from expensive and complicated materials. The only thing that is changing from one season to the next is the detailing and embellishment.

This is also the reason for the renewed popularity of original vintage items or items in a vintage style. It's easier to work with that and it's faster. Perhaps, the vintage comeback is also to do with the fact that we live in quite a sad world. We yearn for something good and old-fashioned that reminds us of a world that we used to know very well. It's comforting. There is so much choice nowadays that people tend to cling to something familiar from their own past, from their parents' stories or from history.

Although minimalism has really become "one of the million other trends" on the catwalk, it is quite relevant in our daily lives, albeit in a slightly different form. Do you relate to a lifestyle built on austerity, economy and conscious rejection of unnecessary consumption?
In terms of clothing, I'm always dressed in dark colours. I mostly wear navy, as I think it's "my" color, and black. If I like something, I wear it to death. Or I buy the same item in multiple and wear it day after day. I was more "trendy" when I was younger, but now I'm not interested. I value comfort and simplicity. When you work in fashion it is important that the people working with you look neutral. You should be able to see the model and the clothes, to focus on the style of the collection you are working on and not be distracted by the flamboyantly dressed people around you. Everything must be sterile.

To read our review of Rodolfo Paglialunga's recent collections for Jil Sander, click here