Patti Smith walked in your Fall/Winter 2006 men’s show for the first time. Were you the on who wanted this? It was purely a matter of chance. I was in Paris, preparing for the show, when she called me to say she was coming to the capital to do the promotion for her album and that it would be easy for her to make a visit to Antwerp. I was telling her that I’d be in Paris too, and Patti was completely into the idea of our getting together. She wasn’t at all interested in being part of the audience, she’d always dreamed of seeing me at work. She wanted to be at my side just as I often had been for her in the past, during and after her concerts. Patti took to the game really quickly, trying on all the pieces in the collection, putting the whole team in a good mood with improvised songs and then the day before the show, she just showed me the outfit she wanted to wear on the catwalk.
Ann Demeulemeester interview. encens magazine no 18 fall/winter 2006/2007
Ann Demeulemeester interview. encens magazine no 18 fall/winter 2006/2007
How would you describe your evolution during these last twenty years of fashion? Usually I say that a new collection is the concrete expression of everything that was missing in those that came before. Its like a steep hill that i have to climb. In twenty years, I’ve gradually scratched a furrow, the story of which, my story, is clothing. I’ve gotten better, I’ve acquired technical experience that allows me to go farther but i never stop learning
For two seasons, women’s and men’s have been shown together, but now they’re broken down into two distinct collections. Has that created any new possibilities for you? Absolutely. For a long time, I didn’t want to separate men’s and women’s. I didn’t think it was normal, it was like cutting life in two. Certainly, the necessity of making them walk separately is a response to my need for enlarging the scale of pieces available for men. But this is where i found happiness. Everything is not blended like it was before. It’s no longer a question of doing a jacket for women in the morning, and in the afternoon concentrating on men’s trousers. Now I work in two stages, beginning first with men’s, which leads me to undertake the women’s collection under another light, as if it were the second chapter of the same story. I believe that this different approach to my fashion can be seen in the final result.
When you began in 1987, your eminence grise, your world’s alter ego, Patryck Robyn, put together some sumptuous visuals. Why have you stopped doing it that way? There was no longer any reason. At the beginning of my career, I resisted the idea of a show. I thought that I absolutely wasn’t ready. To compensate for this, with Patrick, who was still a full time photographer, I produced catalogues of my collections. Then Patrick got more involved in the evolution of my label, to the point that at a certain point it seemed to us that, in order to keep together as a couple we needed to regroup our ambitions into one. Patrick had to do a lot of traveling and was sometimes absent for long periods. One day he decided to stop short when it came to leading a double life so that he could work with me. I’ll always be grateful for that.
What is your relationship to your past, your archives? Out of fear of disappointing myself, I’ve always refused to look back. But i have kept a lot of pieces that i considered the best of each of my collections from being sold. It has built into an enormous stock, which i keep in a separate room. However, the for the last months, my retrospective at Hyeres has required that i refresh my memory. Despite my apprehension, revisiting my career had been quite thrilling. Certain clothes haven’t aged at all. I could do them tomorrow without a problem. What are the most lasting, in the end, are the memories, flashes: I can rediscover my tears in a piece of clothing!
In your winter 2007 show, big hoods that can be wrapped around the body reminded me of a great moment in the fashion you’ve done. Were they directly inspired by your 1997 rectangles for wrapping around the body? My mentality’s different than it was ten years ago. In 1997, for the first time I wanted to set the counters back to zero and envision my collection as it I knew nothing. I worked without sketches without any bosses. All that was left was the material, the fabric. As if I no longer had any knowledge about clothing design, I made it move over me, I rolled myself into it and i put holes in it to stick my arms through it. It was a very strong experience, which will haunt my sense of fashion for life. Also that piece has become my emblem: at the workshop, my collaborators call it <the ann piece>. So yes, maybe this season more than the others is a prolongation of my research on clothing pure of all construction. But in the meantime, there has been ten years designing cuts, and my way of working feels the effect of it. For me, the guiding principle remains trying to explore unknown territory for each collection, but not confronting things that aren’t part of my sensibility. I’m always excited by the idea of starting with an element that I find ugly a priori and then transforming it in terms of my lexicon. The result makes me learn a lot about myself.
How have you been affected by your passion for Belgian fashion? I knew that it was going to pass. When I started, Antwerp was a no-man’s land, no journalist was interested in us. Then a wave of designers started making waves, almost to the rhythm of each new season, which helped to crystallize the phenomenon. Signs of enthusiasm from the press was very gratifying, to the extent that Belgium finally became synonymous with fashion. That said, I’ve always kept
Leather is essential to your collections. How have you succeeded in always finding treatments of it? I love leather, working with it is a permanent challenge. Cutting it doesn’t allow for the slightest approximation: you have to treat it with perfect mastery. I designed my first clothing in leather in 1993, a jacket that i still wear. The idea came to me from my brother who was working with sheepskin, and who initiated me to the countless textures that leather can engender. In addition, I quickly got alienated from my existing materials when it came to creating my own touches, as i experimented with novel qualities of the skins, which I love approaching like living tissue.
Would you live without making fashion your profession? That’s difficult to answer. I was only a teenager when i registered at the Academy at Antwerp, and I was more preoccupied with the world of music than that of fashion magazines. I was already ill at ease with the <chi chi> side of this profession. My girlfriends, who thought I was an astonishing phenomenon, strutted around in a Mugler look and Maud Frizon shoes. I needed some time to understand that i could appreciate a leather jacket by Montana without loving all fashion and being bound to reject it as a whole.
The obstinacy that characterizes you, did you have it then? Perhaps my decision to temporarily interrupt my career so that I could have a baby was also a form of stubbornness. Victor was born when I became conscious that I really wanted to make fashion my profession. His birth seemed to me essential before actually taking off, and there was no way in the world that I would have accepted letting time fly at the expense of my desire to have a child.
Do you follow the collections of other designers? Honestly, the feat of letting myself be influenced blocks me. I live a bit in my own bubble and concentrate in my own evolution. Of course, I see things but i dont pass my days trying to decipher them. Besides I have a closer relations with people in the arts or music than those in the fashion world. But I’m still very respectful of my peers, whose high standards give their creations soul. Even if they aren’t my taste, I’m the first to recognize their value.
"How can i make a collection from painter’s canvas? That was the basic question behind the summer 1999 collection. This favorite material, which she had already used for invitations, displays and even tables was ‘translated’ into an almost exclusively white collection, the shapes developing further on those she started for the Winter 1998 collection, were conceived from what Ann Demeulemeester describes as "zero base", the source of the ‘shape issue’; to set aside the repertoire of traditional patterns and to confront herself with the essence of a garment: a piece of material which you can wrap around yourself"
Ann Demeulemeester Spring/Summer 1999. from Belgian Fashion Design
"I’m interested in every designer whose soul can be found in their work. If they have an idea about who they are and can express that in their work, then I can appreciate it. It doesn’t matter if it’s not my style or to my personal taste, because if it is real and done in an original way then it is interesting."
Ann Demeulemeester in Dazed & Confused, April 2002
An Vandevorst selected questions/answers from Assouline’s The Fashion Questionnaire
Your favourite fabric – Felt and the fragile nylon of nylon stockings
Your favourite colour – If black is a colour, black. If not, then army green
The style you most dislike – No style
Your favourite fashion photographer – Ronald Stoops
Your shoe/shoe designer fetish – Black leather riding boots
Your ideal bag – Doctor’s bag
Your favourite designer – Filip Arickx
Your contemporary muse or inspiration – A mix of Joseph Beuys (for his primitive roughness) and Pina Bausch (for the elegance of dance and her strength and humour) with a hint of desert nomad.
What is your present state of mind? New year – new energy – new creativity – new things that will happen.
ann demeulemeester, 1993
Kirsten Owen for The Face, September 1993. by Craig McDean
Ann Demeulemeester store in Antwerp
Ann Demeulemeester’s store looks like an artist’s workshop: a raw open space with an unfinished feel. The result is unique and extremely personal. Ann wanted her first shop to look like her and to be an incursion in the own world. She designed the store with her husband and partner Patrick Robyn and asked the architect Paul Robbrecht to help with the realisation. The building is opposite the Museum of Fine Art and is located on the museum square, recently redesigned by Paul Robbrecht.
The building accommodating the store was build at the end of the 19th century and is situated in an historical and now bohemian area called “Het Zuid”. The typical Antwerp architecture of the building and it’s opulent facade is in stark contrast with the poetic bareness created by Ann inside. Here, one can find the intimate atmosphere of her atelier. The furniture, the light, the music, as well as symbolic elements of her work such as a white feather and white canvas wrapping up the space like a second skin.
600 Square meters are spread on two levels and linked by an impressive staircase. The floor is made of unpolished wood, high ceiling are painted black and the walls are covered with huge frames of canvas. the lighting is very simple and combines industrial neons, bare light-bulbs and hanging lamps wrapped in cotton gauze. All furnishings are Ann’s creation.
5 oversized changing rooms are surrounding a small wild garden. In each room, a jug of water and a glass placed on a white table invite the customer to take time and enjoy this intimate moment. Elsewhere, white pigeons in a glass cage add to the poetry of the space. Higher up perched on the roof, a light watches night and day over Ann’s universe. All of Ann Demeulemeester’s collection will be available in the store: women- and menswear, shoes and accessories as well as furniture.
"Escale A L.A." Lara Stone photographed by Inez & Vinoodh for Vogue Paris 2011