13 August 2015

Reclaiming Luxury

Haider Ackermann
Spring/Summer 2016
Images via Style.com

Haider Ackermann
Autumn/Winter 2015

Eugene Rabkin: People usually talk about fashion as change, but I find things that last more beautiful. Do you?

Haider Ackermann: Yes, and it is also the same when everybody talks about luxury. Luxury is not something you should throw away every season, or that you change every season. For me, there is also luxury to work every time with the same person. There is a kind of an intimacy and longevity in it.

(Interview with Haider Ackermann on StyleZeitgeist Magazine)

At its best I think fashion sells us a small piece of luxury, fantasy and beauty to add to our lives. For pure function we can look elsewhere, for cheap pricing we can look elsewhere, but why we return time and again to buying and wearing fashion is because of the way it makes us feel - "here is something beautifully made that makes me feel beautiful when I wear it". It probably goes without saying that straying too far to the other end of the spectrum also has its issues. Pure luxury can often lead to impractical costumes best suited to being photographed as you make your way into an event, before you change into something easier to move around in for the actual party (e.g. Rihanna at the Met Gala). Pure fantasy provides relatively similar results, entering the realm of costume incredibly quickly and thus, while no doubt fun for special occasions, hardly suited for the realities of everyday life.

The two criticisms I often hear levelled at Haider Ackermann's work are that it looks the same from season to season, and that the unashamed luxury is only suited to those rich enough not to have to do anything more than lounge around all day in a some sumptuously decorated palace. The former criticism is one I find trite because all you have to do is sit down and look at the collections properly to see that is not the case. The latter, however, is a view I myself held for quite a while after Ackermann debuted his menswear - stunningly beautiful, but who the heck has the time to wear it? Having said that I feel his latest Spring/Summer 2016 collection was by far the most wearable men's collection he has presented thus far, being a clear refinement, as opposed to some departure, from his canon of work. The development is one that he has clearly been working on since his initial proposal in the Carte Blanche Named Opium collection. I imagine it being a good move to make the menswear more economically viable, but I am glad to see it having come about so organically. I have to admit that it actually caught me by surprise how over the past year or so I have found myself looking to incorporate some Ackermann pieces into my small wardrobe.

Ackermann's aesthetic is by now instantly recognizable, with each new collection presenting a refinement of his luxe world. I find it amusing that Ackermann is criticized for supposedly doing something that Slimane has actually been doing at Saint Laurent, to rapturous applause and even more frenzied sales, since his first collection. I see a clear progression in Ackermann's work (for both menswear and womenswear), having debuted with a truly decadent menswear collection, and then spending the most recent seasons creating a wardrobe that is more fleshed out and comprehensive. Compare this to Slimane whose collections have been stillborn and repetitive, selling a glassy-eyed vision of youth culture. Both sell an idea of luxury, but whilst Slimane's is to my mind redundant (seriously, if for whatever reason I wanted to cosplay as Kurt Cobain, I could do so at a fraction of the price, and look better doing so), Ackermann's is alluring and beautiful. If a designer is going to propose luxury, I want decadence, not overpriced high street fodder or I-got-naked-and-covered-myself-in-glue-before-rolling-around-in-a-vintage-shop, and so I find myself drawn ever-closer to Ackermann's clothing.

Ackermann's menswear collections have always made me picture a prince returning home from his travels, and yet he manages to do so without the overt cultural tourism and historical bricolage one would expect from others attempting to do something similar (of course, this too can be done to wondrous effect, just look at Galliano's earlier work). I think this is important because in allowing influences to be expressed through fabrics such as silks and velvets, or intricate patterning, or sumptuously deep colours such as the blood reds and inky greens, the ideas manage to be rooted in the very composition of the garment. Yes, the styling on the catwalk layers multiple prints and multiple colours providing a visually rich (sometimes even dense) vision of dandified languor; but if you deconstruct the looks you quickly see that relaxed elegance so intrinsic to Ackermann's approach. Even though the styling of some of the shows has been heavy-handed, the pieces in person have always seemed to make sense.

It is somewhat difficult to explain this idea through the catwalk images alone, so I have included images from Ackermann's webstore of the current Autumn/Winter 2015 collection. Comparing the styling of these to catwalk, the collection no longer seems (dare I say?) rarefied, but rather beautifully suited to adding a quiet sense of luxury into your wardrobe. What is more, the sense of luxury is thoroughly personal, but of course one could easily go the brash route (the gold lame trousers from the new collection come to mind - but even then I feel it comes across more campy than trashy). I enjoy the presentations because they allow Ackermann to present a coherent vision for the season, but when it comes to assessing what I would like to buy and wear, then these pared down looks are definitely appreciated.

Another reason I find myself enjoying Ackermann's work so much lately is the fact that it remains thoroughly masculine in silhouette without being comic (once again, if that is your thing - Thom Browne exploits it to delightful effect). This masculinity is tempered by the draped layering, silken fabrics and deep rich colours, which soften any real sense of aggression the silhouette could provide. Unlike the neutered sexuality of Slimane's work (and no, androgyny it is not), Ackermann provides a sensual approach for both his menswear and womenswear that is brimming with a powerful sexuality. The strong shoulders, low necklines exposing bare chest, tight waists, and elongated legs provide a classic masculine silhouette, actually reminding me in an odd way of the lakshanas of Mughal portraiture painting - barrel-chested men with swords slung on tight waists. Yet instead of relying on fitted tailoring to provide this effect, it is created by far more relaxed methods, and I definitely appreciate that - it is soft and comfortable without ever feeling lazy. Of course the rich colours and luxurious materials prevent this also, but I think the garments and silhouettes would provide the same effect even in all white cotton.

Yes it is decadent, yes it is unashamedly luxurious, but damn do I want some for my wardrobe.



  1. I'm not paying as much attn to fashion as I used to, but I enjoy reading your insightful commentary. And I can't resist a good SL snark. yes I avoid looking at SL as much as as possible, and oh goodness whenever I catch an glimpse of the women's...the worst of the 80s!!

  2. P: Will never miss an opportunity to snark on SL ;) Would also fit in well on a discussion on the last two Lanvin menswear collections, because I think they are the perfect example of what I think Saint Laurent menswear should be. But now with him doing Couture for his own approved clients...well I'm expecting I may have to consciously avoid looking at his work altogether. His Dior Homme credit dried up a long time ago.

  3. "His Dior Homme credit dried up a long time ago." - Best line ever in this topic. Between the both of us we have enough contempt for Hedi to last a lifetime.

    I've loved Haider before I fell in love with Rick. I still do love his work but like what you said, his clothes are a little lavish at times for frequent practical wear. But when I do wear his yards-long garment, it's like transcending cultures and age. The only complain I have about his clothes is that the man cannot grade his trousers. Having owned several pairs of them, his smallest sizing could fit 1.5 of me. If this continues I'm afraid I have to write a strongly-worded mail to him. In calligraphy.

  4. Gracia: I prefer a little lavish to poorly made Rick these days...my wallet can't keep up with him anymore! Haha and definitely do ;) I honestly have no idea what size I am these days, I'm too used to Yohji sizing on everything, I should probably break out a measuring tape.