Ann Demeulemeester stages striking retrospective at Pitti Uomo
The impact was striking as one entered the huge Stazione Leopolda venue, immersed in darkness. A seemingly endless white runway stretched across the middle of the space, over 40 silhouettes emerging from the mist shrouding it. They were immediately recognisable as the creations that have characterised Ann Demeulemeester’s 40-year career. On Wednesday, as guest of honour of the Pitti Uomo menswear show, the Belgian designer staged a dizzying 40-year swoop across her fashion universe, underscored by a compilation of her shows’ soundtracks.
In total, 46 looks, mostly in black, with the occasional white accent and a sprinkling of red. The first 40 looks were selected by the designer herself from the archives she kept since 1982, the year she launched into fashion, until the end of 2013, when she retired. The final six came from the label’s last three collections, after Ann Demeulemeester was acquired in September 2020 by Milanese businessman Claudio Antonioli.
Demeulemeester is one of the renowned ‘Antwerp Six’, the six students from the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts’ 1981 graduation class who left an indelible mark on fashion with their avant-garde aesthetics. Demeulemeester has always been true to her vision: her creations thrive on her flair for experimentation and, above all, on her sophisticated construction work, going well beyond Demeulemeester’s distinctive dark minimalistic image, a style hovering between rock ‘n’ roll dandyism and androgynous romanticism that has influenced scores of designers.
“I chose the looks following my feelings, from within my collections, from the first show to the last. I instinctively picked those I loved the most, as if I was simply choosing some clothes to wear. And when I put them all together, I was stunned. It was like a history, a collection in its own right,” said Demeulemeester, an unostentatious woman who doesn’t relish being centre-stage, talking to FashionNetwork.com.
“Throughout my career, I’ve been faithful to one particular style, one line. Even my oldest looks could be worn tomorrow. It’s amazing. I’m not a decorator. Rather, I work as an architect, a sculptor, until I achieve the shape I want. It’s all in the cuts. I don't need colours to explain my work, and each silhouette is different and clearly defined, generating a fresh feeling every time,” she added.
Demeulemeester founded her label in 1985, and sold it to businesswoman Anne Chapelle in 2013, when Sebastien Meunier took over as creative director. The new impetus given to the label by Antonioli in the last three seasons doesn't displease her. “I have a lot of respect for him, as he has for me. He’s going to invest, giving the brand a future,” she acknowledged with satisfaction, underlining that she no longer does any design work for her eponymous label.
“A team of designers is in place, we should let them grow. Now, I'm dealing with special projects. With my husband Patrick Robyn, we have completely renovated the 500 m2 Antwerp flagship store, giving it back the look we wanted. I’m enhancing the brand through other domains, like fragrances, tableware, furniture,” said Demeulemeester.
Antonioli too seems to be satisfied. “We have repositioned the label in some of the world’s top boutiques, working again with a number of long-standing multibrand customers that had drifted away from [Ann Demeulemeester]. The label is selling well,” he said with a smile.
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