In an unusually trendless year, outdoor apparel was one of the few genuine movements to emerge over the course of 2020. So-called GORPcore moved beyond its crunchy niche and into the collections of Gucci and Prada, while Patagonia and the North Face earned full-fledged fashion credentials. But outdoor vibes have always been a part of Jil Sander+, the diffusion line launched by creative directors Luke and Lucie Meier in 2019 to complement their monastically pure mainline with clothing designed for life outside the city.
Which means it was probably only a matter of time before they announced what will likely be their buzziest collaboration to date: a collection of four shoes with Birkenstock. “It’s an authentic brand and legitimate product for that kind of environment,” Luke said in a Zoom call. “And, you know, we wanted to get the right feeling from what we do in Jil Sander+, and Birkenstock gives us that feeling.”
Jil Sander has long served as the yuppie aesthete’s dream working wardrobe; Jil Sander+ is a sort of a modernist’s approach to country clothing. Both of the Meiers are adamantly outdoorsy (and the brand’s eponymous founding designer liked to brag about her weekend trips to the German ski resort Gstadt, stopping at McDonald’s in her Bentley along the way). But these pieces aren’t merely outdoors-inspired. “You don’t want to sacrifice your point of view on aesthetics or quality, but also you have to consider things that actually work, that have a functionality, too,” Luke said. “So, the idea was to really marry those worlds from a Jil Sander point of view, with the same quality level, the same attention to detail with things that are more attuned to being outside.” (The Meiers have their outdoor bona fides: they collaborated with Arc’teryx back in February.)
The Meiers worked with three existing Birkenstock shapes (the classic Arizona sandal, the heel-strapped Milano sandal, and the Berlin clog), slightly exaggerating their proportions and using Jil Sander-level materials like raw-edged calfskin and spongy suede. They also introduced a new silhouette, the Velan, a closed toe clog with a wraparound ankle strap—“more playful, and a bit more feminine,” said Lucie. They were particular about the leathers and suedes used for the project, which give the pieces their bulbous grace. “We like these things that you just want to go and touch,” Lucie said. “The squishiness of this is what we were really after.” They also redesigned the shoes’ famous buckles, making them slightly thinner, more refined. “I always think if you have something that’s beautiful looking and it works really well,” Luke added, “that’s much more appealing.”
Birkenstock has been considered a part of fashion for years now—Phoebe Philo brought them into the fashion canon with a fur-lined version in 2013, and they were quickly adopted by the style cognoscenti, including fellow Birks collaborator Rick Owens. But part of this project’s appeal is the Meiers’s philosophical viewpoint on collaborations: Luke was formerly the creative director at Supreme, the brand that shaped collaborations into an art form beyond the standard high-low mix that tends to dominate luxury partnerships. “It’s about what really helps fill out our vision for what we should be offering and what we want to make,” he said. “It’s not about putting two logos together. I think, also, a collaboration is an easy way to make some news. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a better product. If we work with somebody it’s because, together, we arrive somewhere that neither [brand] could on their own.”
The collection goes on sale at jilsander.com, 1774.com, and mytheresa.com on July 1, and in Jil Sander stores around the world on July 8.