When Lucie and Luke Meier took the helm of venerable modern-minimalist label Jil Sander in 2017, the husband-and-wife team was adamant that their outlook on design would complement, not reinvent, the house codes. They have largely stayed true to those words, working with neutral colors and streamlined silhouettes, avoiding embellishment, and honoring the label’s long-standing tradition of exceptional tailoring.
And yet. There is something fresh and fearless about the Meiers’ take on minimalist design. They exploit moments of softness and grace in garments that would have previously felt rigid. They’ve introduced fluidity into the brand’s vocabulary and added an occasional dash of whimsy that has made Jil Sander the go-to collection for a new legion of urban sophisticates.
This fall, the label focuses on the idea of perception and juxtaposition. Feminine details play off masculine silhouettes, while soft and hard angles come together in a series of innovative shapes. Delicate sketches of birds in nature contrast with an otherwise monochrome lineup.
The label hones their message through a partnership with Australian artists David Fox and Linda Tegg. The couple designed the backdrop for the brand’s Fall ’19 runway show, accompanied by an installation in the company’s Milan headquarters. The work, titled Adjacent Fields, showcased living plants transferred from various locations around the city into an organized indoor display during Fashion Week. The wild-growing flora contrasted starkly against the modern urban backdrop, asking viewers to reconsider the meaning and purpose of nature.
This theme continues with the unveiling of Barneys’ Madison Avenue windows. Each window features one of Fox’s photographs of plant life in New York City. Taken over the course of a two-week visit this spring, the images show clovers peeking through cracks in the sidewalk and lush patches of green poking out from crumbling concrete walls. “There is a particular beauty to their resilience and relentlessness,” says Fox, who worked with Barneys’ design team to produce the photos in large format for the window display. “New York is such a developed place where humans compete for every square inch of space. It’s hard to imagine that plants might stand a chance here. These spontaneous plants overcome our human imposition on the land and exist regardless of it.”
Inside the store, nine additional large-scale windows with photographs have been mounted in such a way that viewers can see through from one side to the other, inspiring a thought-provoking conversation about perspective, perception, and where the boundaries are between what’s natural and what is human-made. “These plants haven’t been cultivated,” explains Fox. “Often humanity is actively working to suppress them. But they’ve found a spot where they can grow and are asserting their existence within it.”
To create his poignantly gritty visuals, Fox spent two weeks wandering the streets of New York City for up to eight hours a day. “It’s a lot of time looking down, seeking out nooks and corners where a plant might grow,” he says. “Most of the photographs are from Brooklyn and Queens—industrial zones and fringe spaces like empty lots that are a little further away from heavily trafficked areas.”
Even without context, Fox’s photographs are striking—it’s easy to see the interplay between the urban and natural worlds, with nature seemingly winning the battle of wills. For Fox, the narrative is more about reengaging with parts of the world we willfully ignore. “I’m looking for the beauty in what is not always seen as beautiful—or not even seen at all,” he says. “I want to cultivate an awareness for more than humankind and our collective environment. This drives an aesthetic and a way of working that is sympathetic with the approach of Jil Sander. Lucie and Luke Meier view nature—its shapes, materials, colors, and its influence in our contemporary lives—as one of their main sources of inspiration.”
Along with the Barneys project and work for Jil Sander during Milan Design Week, Fox and Tegg created a living installation of native Australian grasslands within the Australian Pavilion during the Venice Architecture Biennale last year, a demonstration of how architecture can be used to separate humans from the natural world, and how it can be used to bring people back together. The couple has also produced a series of photographs and books on the subject of spontaneous plants, as well as a series of films that focus on 14 different architectural projects around Australia connected by their efforts to reintegrate with their local surroundings.
Fox’s work will be on display at Barneys’ Madison Avenue location until August 18.