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Deconstructing Demeluemeester | Wall Street Journal

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Deconstructing Demeluemeester | Wall Street Journal

Post by xyz on Tue Feb 26, 2013 6:01 am

Great article about one of our favourite designers.

Deconstructing Demeulemeester
The Belgian Fashion Designer Is Still Doing It Her Way



Ann Demeulemeester absorbed the Flemish work ethic at an early age. She remembers looking out at the endless fields where her father grew the chicory he then roasted and sold in neat packages in the postwar years, before coffee came back. Long hours also became the backbone of her own success as a fashion designer.

In an industry in which change is one of the few constants, Ms. Demeulemeester has maintained an unwavering vision. A petite figure straight out of a Hans Memling painting, she isn't obsessed with trends. Twenty-seven years after launching her own business, she's a byword for single-minded dedication, still creating looks that embrace the androgynous modernity with which she first made her name.

Ms. Demeulemeester has a coterie of faithful followers who collect the shirts, jackets and trousers for which she designs most of the textiles, and the shoes shaped on her own lathes. They include close friend and muse Patti Smith.

At 16, Ms. Demeulemeester fell in love with the album cover of the American singer's 1975 debut solo album "Horses," featuring a black-and-white photo of Ms. Smith wearing a plain white shirt and black suspenders. Before they met, Ms. Demeulemeester sent Ms. Smith a beautifully wrapped white shirt as a gift. "It was the white shirt of my dreams," Ms. Smith told French magazine Les Inrockuptibles in 2007. "The details were incredible, the fabric so fine, so soft." Now, the rock star always wears Demeulemeester clothes on stage.

With such associations, it's no wonder the designer's clothes are often described as rock, punk or Goth. But Ms. Demeulemeester says they are really about poetry, perfectionism and craftsmanship. The desperado spirit of punk isn't her thing, she says, but cut, asymmetry and movement are.

French poet Arthur Rimbaud is a hero, but she has also found inspiration in Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Claude Debussy, Herman Hesse, the Dadaists, William Blake and Jackson Pollock. "It can be a splash of paint," she says, "but it is really about the energy something conveys, and that I try to convey in my clothes." She also likes the purity of black and white. "Sometimes a black and white photograph says everything," she says.

It's an aesthetic she has embraced from the very beginning. Ms. Demeulemeester graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp in 1981 with other soon-to-be-famous designers Dries Van Noten and Dirk Bikkembergs. "It was a coincidence," she says of the group, who shot to stardom together as the Antwerp Six. "We were all driven, hard working, competitive and talented young people determined to be different and better than the others." The fact that Belgium wasn't yet on the fashion map was an added stimulus.

Ms. Demeulemeester's constancy on the fashion scene since then reflects a determination to pursue her own groove, at her own speed, taking the economic speed bumps as they come. "There's always been a crisis as far back as I remember," she says, "but we've been slowly growing year after year." In April, she will add a boutique in Shanghai to those in Antwerp, Toyko, Hong Kong and Seoul. But the designer has had to make some concessions in the name of expansion. She is no longer as faithful as she would like to be to the meticulous Belgian and Italian manufacturers—labor costs are too high. "A beautiful jacket made in Italy from one of our fabrics costs a fortune," she says. Now her slightly less haut-de-gamme range is made in Portugal, Spain and Turkey.

For Ms. Demeulemeester, there is some comfort in consistency—both professionally and personally. She is still married to her teenage sweetheart, photographer and close accomplice Patrick Robyn, and travels outside Antwerp only when she absolutely has to. Her signature look also remains unchanged—a uniform of white shirt, dark waistcoat, black trousers and boots that is often mimicked on her runways. The designer says she likes her clothes to make the wearer feel at once defiant and protected. "I love to see a woman in one of my jackets," she adds, "as though she was ready to take on the world."

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