Meet Abnit Nijjar, the philophile now guiding womenswear at Jil Sander

A protégé of the ingenious Phoebe Philo, Abnit Nijjar became the design director of womenswear at Jil Sander over a year ago after working at Céline (back when it had the accent) for six years. Both fashion houses, Jil Sander and Céline, were once known for their puristic visions—focusing on abstraction over extroversion; classic over cool; simplicity over ornamentation.

 In contrast to this, Nijjar’s childhood was vibrantly unrestrained and it makes one wonder how a London-born Punjabi girl ended up in a universe where less is always more. 

“My Indian heritage scrambled to compete with my British identity. My parents are Punjabi but my mother was born in Kenya and grew up in England. My sense of belonging to one culture was a little confused and the clash of both British reserve and disarming frankness couldn’t have been more contrasted with the over-embellished ways I recognised in the ‘Indian’ me. But, this culture clash cultivated my references for dreamy textures, colours, fabrics and craftsmanship alongside the practical reality of living in a cold, rainy city and choosing comfort and ease in dressing,” says Nijjar.

A moodboard at Jil Sander

 Even though Nijjar used to closely watch her mother’s daily rituals—from dressing up to putting a plum lipstick with all her outfits—pursuing design was never in her plan. “I didn’t have a clue what I was getting myself into when I enrolled at art school. I never knew you could study fashion and that Central Saint Martins happened to be the place for it. I was supposed to study English literature at another university but spontaneously decided to go to art school instead,” she says.

After learning the foundations at CSM, Nijjar applied for a master’s degree at Royal College of Art and left London to work in Paris at the French luxury label that nurtured designers like Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, Chloé—along with Maison Martin Margiela. In 2012, Nijjar joined Céline. Her first show was Philo’s fourth winter collection. “I started as a designer and worked my way up to senior designer in a small team run by Michael Rider, solely working on the runway collections,” she reveals. 

Her time was divided between the London and Paris offices. Over the course of six years, Nijjar was debriefing pattern makers, following up on design launches with new prototypes and taking them back to London for fittings with Philo. “We were just a bunch of kids living on the Eurostar, running between London and Paris not fully grasping how big our design influence was until the end,” she recalls.

Books that Nijjar admires

In 2018, Nijjar joined Jil Sander—an illustrious German brand founded by the designer who many like to recognise as fashion’s first feminist. “It’s a really exciting role as I look over a broader product range compared to my previous position, and work alongside an amazing group of designers. I’ve always admired the Jil Sander aesthetic growing up and felt that she made women in suits look cool and powerful, two attitudes I always seek to encourage within my design work,” she explains.

With her role at Jil Sander, she cherishes all that it has to offer: from references of beautifully-crafted clothes and art books to early Jil Sander campaign images photographed by Craig McDean and David Sims. She works under the guidance of creative directors Lucie and Luke Meier, who have previously worked for luxury conglomerates like Dior, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton and streetwear giant Supreme. 

Nijjar’s pencils and tools

Although Nijjar operates in an industry where change is the only constant, there are some questions that resurface with each era: what is the meaning of luxury? And, is fashion art? These are also the questions that she aspires to answer as a designer. 

Nijjar now works in Milan and she is extremely excited by the thought of coming to India. “Please can I get a visa on arrival?,” she says. However, it is London where she chooses to stay permanently. On asking her the reason behind this decision, she answers with a smile: “I love London too much.” 

Photographs (Abnit Nijjar): Vikram Kushwah

Sittings Editor: Patricia Machado

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