31 January 2014

Him + Her

Autumn/Winter 2013

On the 20th November 2013 Belgian designer Ann Demeulemeester announced by way of a handwritten letter that she was leaving her eponymous label. The departure was a shock to press and fans alike, and came less than a month after the news that German designer Jil Sander was leaving her own namesake label for the third time. But where Sander’s departure seems to point towards an uncertain period ahead for the Jil Sander brand, Demeulemeester was resolute in her letter that the Ann Demeulemeester brand has its own clear identity and legacy.

Demeulemeester has bucked fashion trends since the brand’s inception in 1985, carving out her own darkly romantic path with a fiercely independent spirit. Although commentators have aligned her with the deconstructionist wave of the 1990s, given her combination of sensual drapery with a consciously imperfect finish, Demeulemeester’s impact was felt most in the way she incorporated a multiplicity of cultural influences in her work without ever losing her own voice. This is a designer who said she was only ever drawn to artists whose soul can be found in their work, and it was an ideal she herself always strived for. 

Part of the ‘Antwerp Six’, the group of young Belgian designers who amazed press and buyers when they first showed in London in 1986 (Demeulemeester’s entire collection was bought by Barneys New York on the spot), Demeulemeester was a designer who stayed true to herself from the very beginning. Even as a student she was confident in her style, disregarding her pattern-making teacher’s opinion that only off-white, not pure white, ought be paired with black in the same outfit. Her teacher's reasoning was that off-white was preferable because it was what Chanel had used, but Ann stuck to her guns, and black and white were to become her colours par excellence. 

Punk was at its peak during Demeulemeester's time at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and it would undoubtedly become a major influence on her design philosophy. Yet whether inspired by punk and rock music, the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud, the writings of Hermann Hesse, or the art of Jim Dine (with whom she collaborated in 2000), Demeulemeester's work was inescapably personal. While many other designers seem to flit between aesthetic styles, Demeulemeester spent almost three decades refining her vision and presenting, what can best be described as, poet-warrior women (a nice juxtaposition to the conscious fragility with which she imbued her menswear collections). This dedication to constant personal refinement, through dialogue with cultural references relevant to her own life, is why Demeulemeester has been considered by fashion critics as paving the way for designers such as Raf Simons and Rick Owens.

To quote the designer herself, “I am a strong woman. And I go for it.” Hardly surprising then to learn that she considers herself soul mates with close friend and muse Patti Smith (who herself apparently wears almost exclusively vintage finds and Ann Demeulemeester). Musical influences featured heavily in Demeulemeester’s oeuvre, with songs from the likes of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and PJ Harvey (check out StyleZeitgeist Volume 2 for an article on PJ and Ann), helping to create a cohesion of emotional grounding in her work. Music was both a starting point and a way of complementing the mood for any given collection. Demeulemeester talked about her clothing not in terms of its finished look, but rather in the emotions they evoked, a sensibility that inevitably resonated powerfully with her fans.

But for all her romanticism, Demeulemeester was always a pragmatist. She would try on all her womenswear pieces as she was designing them, and also fitted them on two of her female friends to make sure her clothing could cater for a relatively wider range of body shapes than one would initially assume. As far as Demeulemeester is concerned all women have the right to feel strong. In the 28 years since the brand's inception Demeulemeester single-mindedly pursued this vision, and it was beautiful to watch.

“As a young girl I dreamed of having a voice in fashion. I worked hard to realize this dream and now I feel that I have accomplished this mission.” Thank you Ann.

The last collection headed by Ann Demeulemeester herself (Autumn/Winter 2014) will be a joint show, featuring both men and women, on 27th February 2014.



  1. That was an enjoyable read. Thank you Syed :)

  2. "all women have the right to feel strong" beautifully said. I admire designers that stick to their aesthetic and have their own distinct vision. I have yet to own any Ann D, but I admire her work. And as far as I know, it seems she's leaving on her own account, other designers have not always been so lucky.