If Germany’s notable exports share a common trait, it’s an air of stoic precision. The concept of “German engineering” conjures up thoughts of streamlined sportscar engines and refined architectural feats—all embodying the nation’s oft-referenced commitment to detail, discipline and (perhaps most importantly) quality. When scouring for someone who represents these traits in the fashion world, only one German designer could spring to mind: Jil Sander.

Born Heidemarie Jiline Sander in 1943 in the northern German port city of Wesselburden, Sander’s first major foray into design came with her schooling at the Krefeld School of Textiles in Germany in 1963. After spending a year abroad as a foreign exchange student at UCLA, Sander remained in the United States to work in fashion journalism—working at women’s magazine McCall’s—before returning home to work at German publications Constanze and Petra. In 1967, Sander opened a boutique in Hamburg, selling a blend of established European designers like Thierry Mugler and Sonia Rykiel alongside her own clothing. This early period also saw Sander lending her talent to chemical company Hoechst, designing a collection that utilized the company’s man-made, techy Trevira fabric. These would be the first (albeit unofficial) steps for Jil Sander as a fashion brand.

Sander officially launched her namesake brand in 1973, showing her first collection in 1974. These earlier years established Sander’s now-famous edge toward neutral color palettes, top-class fabrics (she did study at a textile school, after all) and sensible tailoring. The design direction was influenced by both the decade’s over-the-top nature of fashion design, along with the blend of composure, reformation, and distaste for decoration that comes naturally to those hailing from a nation with gray weather and deep Protestant roots.

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