Thanks stylegurll for bringing my attention to this - I thought the interview deserves its own thread. "The Modernist By GUY TREBAY 'Sometimes you see fashion, and you could throw up,'' Jil Sander says with a shrug and a sigh. In New York for a 48-hour business trip, the German designer is seated in the rear of a Lincoln Town Car on one of those May days when the weather plays bait-and-switch and Manhattan is plunged into stifling summer before one has even registered spring. Despite the heat and an atmosphere that adheres to the skin like sooty cling wrap, New Yorkers -- in this particular part of Midtown, right across from the Conde Nast building -- seem to be doing their best to keep up the civic bargain. That is, they are decked out with a vengeance, with a dedication and passion -- snub-toed shoes and big belts and Thom Browne suits, with trousers hemmed to heights not seen since the days of Pee-wee Herman -- that demonstrate to the truly committed that dressing oneself is a competitive sport with no room for amateurs. Yet, in Sander's view, the contestants are faltering. They don't appear altogether modern, to use a word that gets a lot of play whenever fashion people are around. They seem, to Sander's eye, to be walking illustrations of the Oscar Wilde epigram that ''most people are other people,'' their lives a mimicry and their passions a quotation. ''If you look as a professional, 98 percent of what we see now is cut-and-paste,'' she says. ''It's all old-fashioned, the work. It's coming from vintage, and so it's almost as if fashion today has become a stupid story.'' In truth, it is Sander herself who is something of a throwback, and the term is intended here as praise. Where most designers now function as glorified stylists or D.J.'s -- fashion samplers with a lively relationship to eBay and running accounts at Gallagher's, the bookshop where back issues of Harper's Bazaar go to die -- Sander is a formalist concerned primarily with structure and shape. And where other designers talk in terms of ''inspirations'' and of narratives borrowed from the last movie they caught at Film Forum, Sander prefers to limit conversation about her work to philosophical abstractions rarely associated with those in the garment trade. ''For myself, the main thing with fashion is, I'm looking for something that has some meaning,'' the designer says. ''And, also, I have to think there is something not already there, something you can do yourself.'' The pursuit of lightness has always been one of her main concerns, she explains, as our car moves away from the curb and into traffic. She is referring to her determination, as a designer, to take basic items of clothing and refine their silhouettes, eliminating surface distractions and cutting away at everything she judges to be extraneous to the function and purpose of the garment, until finally what remains is a deceptively simple and, not infrequently, beautiful thing. ''It's like with Balenciaga,'' she says. ''The more masterful you get, the lighter you can be, the more you can take away and still have purity in the form.'' That viewpoint may be unexpected coming from a designer born in the land of schnitzel and hasenpfeffer, but it is central to the success Jil Sander has achieved in rescuing the words ''German fashion'' from oxymoronic status. If one went looking for Sander's aesthetic antecedents, it would be profitable to leave Germany altogether and cross the border into Austria, where the Viennese architect Adolf Loos once famously proclaimed, ''Ornament is crime.'' Ornament is anathema to the woman whom Vanity Fair dubbed the Queen of Less (and not necessarily as a term of approbation); so too are glitz and shininess, as she tends to explain in conversation, and anything heavy or hybrid or gimmicky or excessively ladylike or cheap or, worst of all, retro. A writer for Slate recently noted that Sander designed as if with ''a draftsman's pen,'' as though an engineer's precision were somehow responsible for the ostentatiously simple cashmere coats, elegantly nothing silk dresses and anonymously handsome men's suits that retailers clamor to merchandise. The lightness the designer talks about can certainly describe the state of one's wallet after making a Jil Sander purchase, but that hardly seems to deter her devoted cultists. ''There is always, always a customer for Jil,'' says Robert Burke, the senior fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, who compares the designer to that other anachronism, the blue-chip stock. Sander and I are heading north on this hot afternoon to see work by a painter whose philosophy bears some resemblance to her own. Risky as it is to draw comparisons between artists and people who sell trousers to department stores, there is a certain likeness between Agnes Martin and Sander. Both have been pigeonholed as minimalist. Both share a preoccupation with clarity, simplified shapes and what Martin has called ''light and lightness'' and ''breaking down form.'' Both are classicist in their orientation and perfectionist by disposition (the function of artwork is ''the renewal of memories of moments of perfection,'' Martin has said). Both are strong-willed and stubbornly self-made. Both went for years in the prime of their careers without creating anything at all. The pictures we are going to look at are 13 rarely seen works from the years of Martin's early obscurity and experimentation. They are on loan to Dia:Beacon, a colossal art space dedicated to a handful of contemporary artists and located in a former Nabisco box factory set alongside the Hudson River, a 90-minute drive outside the city. The outing is a rare one for Sander, whose pace has been especially harried since she made her return to fashion from a hiatus that could hardly be called happy. The sabbatical, as close followers of fashion will remember, followed the 1999 acquisition, by the Prada Group, of 75 percent of Jil Sander A.G., a company that Sander founded in Hamburg, Germany, in 1973, when she was in her early 20's and still known as Heidemarie Jiline Sander, and that she built into a $200 million empire. Less than six months after the deal was struck, Sander abruptly left the company, having mounted just one show under Prada's corporate aegis. Steadily profitable before the designer's departure, the Jil Sander business lost about $30.4 million in 2002 alone, partly on flat sales of designs by Sander's replacement, Milan Vukmirovic, and partly because of the costs of adding a retail store in London and on East 57th Street in New York. For a designer who had been one of the first Germans to show at the ready-to-wear collections in Milan and who once presided over a phenomenally successful public offering on the Frankfurt stock exchange, it was undoubtedly galling to encounter the printed provocations of the first serious boss she ever had. ''The individual fashion designer is less important than the company,'' Patrizio Bertelli, the Prada chief executive, said at the time. The remark would come back to haunt him when he announced last year, to widespread hosannas, that Sander had been coaxed back into the fold. ''I always thought I would be the last person to leave the company,'' Sander says now. And that is about all she has ever been willing to say about the split. Anyhow, her mind is on art at the moment. ''I was always inspired by contemporary art and minimalist art,'' Sander says in her German-accented English. ''I always felt it was similar to what I was doing and that it helped me to keep my vision clear.'' Officially shuttered for the day, the exhibition space has been opened especially for this private tour, and a curator conducts Sander and me through vast rooms of the onetime factory. Perhaps it is the way the works are installed. Perhaps it is the nature of the art itself. Perhaps it is because the place is empty today, but there is about Dia:Beacon the unmistakable air of a cathedral, as I am not the first to observe. And why not? Contemporary art has unquestionably taken on the trappings of a new religion, and what better way to furnish its church than with the monastic monochromes of Robert Ryman's paintings, the eerie luminosity of Dan Flavin's pale fluorescent bulbs, the contemplative grids of Agnes Martin's pictures, patiently scored and incised as if by nuns? And who better to provide vestments for the cult than Jil Sander, long the designer of choice among the art-world cognoscenti and a serious collector herself? ''When you see Ryman, you can easily say, 'Oh, it's just a white canvas,' and in the beginning I tried to make people understand about his work, but nobody understood,'' says Sander, who began collecting works by Ryman, Cy Twombly, Ad Reinhardt and Mario Merz with the first money she earned. ''I am glad that I'm a fashion designer, because you can go directly to the human body to express yourself,'' she continues, her eye leading her quickly from Warhol to Joseph Beuys to Michael Heizer's voids excavated in a gallery floor and finally to Richard Serra's immense plates of canted Cor-Ten steel, which she oddly calls delicate. ''I try to bring something to my work that you also see in art,'' she says, before returning to the limousine and a flight back to Hamburg. ''I'm very well trained in my eye for proportion,'' she says. ''But, even with fashion, you have this other need, to feel the light and the quality of the craftsmanship of this thing on your body, and also, if it's not too pretentious, give you something to feed your soul.'' "