Reworking the heritage of tailoring and personality to rewrite the present. This is how Ann Demeulemester looks to the future
The excitement began as soon as I stepped off the plane. As the taxi pulled into Boulevard Malesherbes my work took over. Paris at that time of year was exploding, all fashion was there. The long prêt-à-porter week, twice a year, was filled with the world's press and the fashion shows would take up more hours of the day, there were 120 to keep up with them all. My notebook would explode at the end of the week, the pages creaking from so much writing, information that I would take back to the editorial office and share with my wonderful team.
That season a new, already much-talked-about signature was on the way: Ann, a sweet name paired with a surname like lead, Demeleumeester. She was part of those famous Antwerp Six along with designers of the calibre of Dries Van Noten and Martin Margiela, Dirk Bikkembergs, Dirk van Saene, Walter van Bereindonck who, immediately after graduating from the then unrecognised Royal Academy in Antwerp, revolutionised a certain way of understanding fashion with their first collections presented in London in 1987 and brought Belgium into the international spotlight. "Good fashion for me is like rock'n'roll, there is always a hint of rebellion". Fragile and petite, with a character and will of steel. Born in Belgium in 1959, she graduated in 1981. In 1992 she presented her first women's collection in Paris and in 1996 her men's line.
The restless romanticism of her early designs, with deliberately rough finishing touches and deconstructivist lines, immediately put her among the stars of the fashion new wave. She presented her collections outside the institutional venues: they were art galleries in Place des Vosges or rue de Paradis, the Refectoire des Cordeliers or the Carreau du Temple and l'Elisée Montmartre, places chosen without hesitation that took nothing away from the clothes and the rigorous steps of the models on her catwalks. Black painted the scene, but there were flashes of white and beige and clever mixes of voile with feathers and black leather. Those dresses had the power to excite, those big, straight, long trousers together with masculine jackets paired with a small bodice-colour with feathers stolen from Cheyenne crowns, a true porte bonheur of hers, managed to touch like poignant music or poetry. Black leather took over, was used for straight skirts or dresses with necklines that reached to the waist, and felt as soft as fabric at the complete privilege of the experience of touch.
They were introspective clothes of a very simple sensuality that made you feel ready to face the world. Ann Demeulemeester left her label in 2013 and has been experimenting with new expressive formats ever since. In 2020, the brand was acquired by Claudio Antonioli, a Milanese entrepreneur and talent scout, who worked on the complete reorganisation of the company, starting with the creation of a style office and renovating the historic shop in Antwerp, under the direction of photographer and Ann's husband, Patrick Robyn. The task is to reposition the Ann Demeulemeester brand as a luxury fashion brand, while maintaining solid ties to the brand's heritage.
For the event in Florence, Ann personally curated a special project at the Stazione Leopolda featuring 40 archive looks and a small selection from the current s/s 2022 collection.