As Ann Demeulemeester celebrates ten years designing for men, she explains why they are the perfect models for her deceptively minimal designs, “Men have beautiful bodies. I like that they have straight shoulders, a long slim body and no hips.”
“Maybe it took ten years, but I have the impression that I’ve found my own voice in menswear, and that it’s clear what I’m doing. And I also get the impression that I can add something to menswear that hasn’t been done before. And that is very inspiring.” Ann Demeulemeester launched onto an unsuspecting fashion scene in a moment of punk guerrilla genius when she, along with her fellow “Antwerp Six” designers, hired a truck to show their debut collections at London Fashion Week in 1987. With a long and lean silhouette for women that is to this day still labelled “androgynous”, it was entirely fitting that Demeulemeester should come to set her sights on men’s wardrobes. Her cerebral approach lends itself perfectly to menswear, where attention to detail and subtleties of design are key. The thinking man’s – and let us not forget woman’s – designer, Demeulemeester’s collections are usually answers to questions that she rigorously sets herself, puzzles that fall into place. Her inspiration comes from sources as varied as the work of Herman Hesse, Franççois Truffaut and artists such as Jackson Pollock and Brancusi, and often takes the form of what Demeuelemeester describes as “transmissions of energy” or “energy shocks”. And then, of course, there is her friend and muse Patti Smith, who made an impromptu appearance on the catwalk at her autumn/winter men’s show last year. “The first musical experience that gave me my first energy shock, was Horses by Patti Smith. I was 16 when it came out. It was amazing because I just saw the cover in the shop window and I didn’t know who it was, and all I could
think was that one day I would know this woman. And it’s funny, finding myself years later saying that, because some things in life you just know. It’s a beautiful memory for me, to have seen a woman as the best ambassador for my menswear, to have Patti doing the menswear show in Paris. It was not planned at all. It made everyone happy and was beautiful because it was very spontaneous.” Not that the pragmatic Belgian designer holds fashion in the esteem and hushed reverence reserved for works of art. “It’s certainly not art to me. You make clothes and they have to be worn. They have to fit on a body. They are not just made to be beautiful. I think art is much freer. With clothes you’re not free – you are making something for somebody. It doesn’t mean you cannot add your soul to what you’re doing, but in the end, the best thing about it is that it ends up in someone’s wardrobe and becomes part of someone’s life. And hopefully, you can add something with that.” With an enduringly steadfast vision that evolves, rather than fluxes with the trend-driven nature of fashion today, Demeulemeester is a rare example of a designer who listens intently to an inner voice. “Don’t misunderstand me. I have a purpose in not following fashion because I don’t want to get confused by what others are doing. I believe the strength of fashion is the strength of different voices. I don’t want to look because I don’t want to be influenced. I just want to follow my direction because I think it’s the best way to enrich fashion. If we are all doing the same thing, what use is it? It’s just boring.
Text Joanna Schlenzka Photography Martina Hoogland Ivanov Styling Tyler Udall Models Alexander, Carl and Gabriel