Ann Demeulemeester is the Pitti Immagine Uomo no.102 Guest of Honor. The Belgian designer herself is the protagonist of a special project, curating her creative heritage. The poetic, musical and fashionable appreciation of the eponymous brand took place at the menswear trade show at Stazione Leopolda from 14-17 June 2022.
Mounting an exhibit during Pitti Uomo, Ann Demeulemeester retraces her career. Her installation animates the persistent traits and codes that punctuate her fashion. In an effort to renew her vocabulary, she curates her work with a sensitivity to time thru her inimitable original intuitions and silhouettes. The curatorial work was decided through a process she describes to WWD as uncalculated and non-linear.
“I always work on feelings, I never have a big plan, I just start working and I follow my feelings and I trust that it is the right thing to do”
She loves to surround herself with the constellation of clothing she affectionately calls ‘friends’. This is a collection that has been created over the course of 40 years – and it’s evident that she picks emotionally. Working like a chain, the event visualises her entire world, her universe, no matter what year. Demeulemeester says,
“It was great finding back my ‘friends’, it was in fact a nice surprise because I never had this calculated or big theory… it’s like almost 30 years of different [looks] and when you put them in a row, it was nice to discover that in fact, that same sensitivity travels through time.”
Past, Present, Future
The project allowed Demeulemeester to forge both past and future onto one stage, where “one world travels through time”, a lingering non-conformist spirit. The Archive thus exists between two places, moving beyond the recovery of memories. Fashion and designs are placed at a crossroads. This is where past and future, lack of definition and the definitive inexorably marry. Outfits from more recent years appear toward the end of the exhibit. Here, they find their place beautifully, with their silhouettes reflecting the back catalogue.
“It’s not a trend, it’s forever.”
Pitti Immagine’s director of events Lapo Cianchi affirms that the curatorial work is becoming a regular act of fashion, “an artistic-esthetic intervention born out of a project design urgency, here and now. A gift for the whole Pitti community.”
Curating 40 looks of her design for the show it commemorates the label’s 40th anniversary. Six additional designs are devised by the brand’s new studio team.
Gravity, feathers, bias cutting, chain mail, armour, suspension, protection, zippers, laces, the six-hole dress, sculpture, Dadaism, Heaven, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, child’s play and tributes to Julia Margaret Cameron and Robert Mapplethorpe are the catalysts for Demeulemeester’s career-defining showcased looks. Ann Demeulemeester retrospectively reflects on each of these looks in a tell-all interview with Vogue.
Speaking on the topic of her fashion in retrospect, she tells WWD that “it was more like a happiness to discover that they can live today. I could wear them tomorrow, every piece, it’s not nostalgic at all, it’s just a life work that still exists and that still has a future.”
Music Makes Magic
Demeulemeester’s influence extends beyond fashion, with music igniting her creative flare. The influence is two-fold, the designer inspiring many critically-acclaimed artists herself, most iconically – A$AP Rocky’s 2011 “Fashion Killa”. It is founded in the memorable lines: “I see your Jill Sanders, Oliver Peoples, Costume Nationals, Your Ann Demeulemeester.”
With a profound connection to music, her aura conforms with artists like Patti Smith and PJ Harvey. The attachment punctuates Demeulemeester’s career in fashion so intensely that her otherworldly aesthetic is evidently a “fashion embodiment of a Patti Smith lyric”, the singer herself never performing without wearing a Demeulemeester piece.
A Nonconformist Spirit
Blurring the lines between menswear and womenswear, she also blends music and fashion together seamlessly, with music becoming a note-worthy component of the project. The exhibition space is scored by a soundscape collated and assembled by Demeulemeester. Consistent of fashion show soundtracks, treasured CDs, narrowing it all down to 50 pieces of audio and music.
The start of the show features a score features an archival recording of a Marcel Duchamp. In it, is an interview from Ann Demeulemeester’s Spring 2008 menswear show. Duchamp is answering a journalist’s question: “Do you think that Dada is more than a criticism of art? He responds; ‘it is much more, it is the nonconformist spirit that has always existed since man is man.’”
Emblematic of her Dada collection in 2008, Demeulemeester explains “we have written ‘Dada’ on the T-shirt, but if you look carefully, there is written ‘Papa’ with a ‘P’, which my husband wanted.”
With the words strikingly resonate with the designer, Duchamp being one of her favourite artists, she tells Vogue,
“You have certain people who do certain things that stay with you forever […] In this collection I was thinking about Marcel Duchamp […]”
Embracing Fluidity, Embracing Flow
It seems in order to be free; we must let go – letting go being Demeulemeester’s way forward. “I only have one life, I just have to move on” she says. Despite the emotional weight and attachment to her work, fashion isn’t something she misses. Instead, she breathlessly embraces the flow of life. Demeulemeester ventures toward other creative media modes. These include pottery, gardening and furniture, with a soon-to-drop furniture line.
The celebration and appreciation of the Maison’s signature style at Pitti Uomo signals the transition of Demeulemeester to the ownership of Italian entrepreneur Claudio Antonioli in 2020. Having left the brand in 2013, Demeulemeester seems satisfied and confident with the transition. This ensures a bright future with an aroused sense of life. A testament to her fashion legacy. She tells WWD,
“I see my fashion as my child and now it’s ready to go by itself in the world with other people.”
Elements of this freedom manifest in the installation via feathers. The designer reminisces with a black feather bustier. It ties with a cord, and is worn by the then-pregnant Kirsten Owen in the fall 1993 ready-to-wear show. She says,
“For me a feather is the ultimate expression of freedom, and also it’s something really humble that comes from nature […] I really wanted to go to the essence and to the very beginning of things.”
Being one of fashion’s melancholy poets, Demeulemeester has always repudiated the limelight. When asked in a 2011 interview published by 10 Magazine, if she was a legend, she simply responded, “No, I’m real.” A characteristic comeback from the designer renowned for both her integrity and resolute diligence to her vision.
For Ann Demeulemeester, fashion is a form of communication, a life work with one style and one voice. How wearable an article of clothing is, is directly related to its potential for expression. It becomes a voice both fragile and strong, “that drags from the emotions, that communicates.”
The 24-hour retrospective installation is assured to be a moment made for the history books. Not only for Ann Demulemeester herself, either. It is also for her supporters; and for all those who simply appreciate the timeless essence of art, poetry, fashion and of life. “It’s not history to me, it’s just my work and if you have a friend, friendship to me is forever, it’s not a trend, it’s forever.”
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