Raf Simons' Jil Sander run gets standing ovation

DANIELA PETROFF AP Fashion Writer Published:

MILAN (AP) -- Despite the standing ovation led by Vogue America's Anna Wintour at the end of the show, Raf Simons left the Milan fashion scene quietly, just as he had come in 6 1/2 years ago.

In 2005, the 44-year-old Belgian designer took the helm at the faltering Jil Sander label, in search of a designer who could take the line further without abandoning the minimalist trademark of the founder, who had since left the company.

His first black and white womenswear collection showed he had the stuff, and collection after collection (men and women) he gained in confidence to slowly create his own vision of Jil Sander, which several seasons ago culminated in a bonanza of color and maxi gowns that dazzled the fashion world.

The winter 2013 show, presented on the fourth day of Milan Fashion Week on Saturday, was his last as creative director for the label. It was soft, serene and very special.

Models with little makeup, their hair pulled back in straight pony tails, wound their way around six floral arrangements on the runway wearing pink, coral or beige pastel robe coats with shawl lapels and a mid-calf hemline. Underneath, they wore lingerie-like dresses with delicately knitted tops and chiffon skirts, accompanied by simple sling back footwear.

After a sudden burst of bright carnation red, the palette turned ivory white and then jet black for the finale of top-drawer evening gowns -- perhaps not without a message that he was returning to the roots.

The look is measured and yet feminine -- in any case feminine enough to fuel reports that have Simons on his way to Dior to replace designer John Galliano, who was fired after a drunken tirade in Paris a year ago.

Earlier in the week, the Jil Sander Group announced that the founder herself was coming back as creative designer for the company she started in 1968.

The news opens a whole new chapter for the label that has enticed women and men with its minimalist elegant styles.

But for now the fashion world is left sad that Simons is leaving. The designer was moved to tears when, after popular demand-clapping, hooting and a spontaneous invasion of the runway, he was forced to take a second curtain call.