In her creations, Ann Demeulemeester incorporated the tension between strength and vulnerability that every person has within themselves. The idea of the feather, which regularly recurs in her work, symbolizes that sensitivity. In the Birds of Paradise exhibition in 2014, MoMu included a number of her iconic feather silhouettes and over the years has highlighted several aspects of Ann Demeulemeester’s signature.
Ann Demeulemeester graduated from the fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp in 1981. In 1985, together with her photographer husband Patrick Robyn, she established her own fashion label. Her designs are meticulously thought through in terms of tailoring, yet evoke simplicity. Asymmetrical lines and flowing fabrics awaken illusions of motion. Demeulemeester plays with gravity through the use of drapery and contrasts the dynamic of ribbons and belts with closely fitted jackets. This penchant for contrast also translates into her black-and-white colour palette and the combination of delicate and more raw materials.
In her 2009-10 Autumn-Winter collection, the power of black seems to protect the fragility of white. This intention is self-evident in the combination of a flowing, draped white shirt dress with a rigid black corset. Thanks to attached belts at the top and free-hanging belts at the bottom, a contrast in volume is created.
Leather demands true tailoring mastery. Demeulemeester used the material for the first time in 1993, following an initiation from her brother, who worked with sheepskin and introduced her to a range of textures in leather. Among other things, she draped it into supple dresses (Autumn-Winter 1999-2000) and used it to construct rigid corsets (Autumn-Winter 2009-10). Variations in riding boots, leggings and gloves in leather have been consistent factors throughout her collections.
Ann Demeulemeester is inspired by the energy of wide-ranging artistic creations, from the music of Bob Dylan and the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud to the visual art of Marcel Duchamp, and she carried the sensations they evoke through to her own creative process.
Music, and particularly the raw poetry of Patti Smith and PJ Harvey, is an important source of inspiration for Ann Demeulemeester. This shared creative language is expressed in both professional collaborations and friendship. During the presentation of the Autumn-Winter 2006-07 collection, Patti Smith was in Paris and made an appearance on the catwalk.
Side view of an apron with ribbons and crows’ beak print
Front view of a top and trousers in cotton with free-hanging apron
Back view of an apron printed with white chalk letters
Front view of a top and trousers in cotton and loose-hanging apron with a bird's head print
Back of an apron with ribbons and birds’ head print
Apron with ribbons and printed text: “Hearts Way Moves/Your Long Tears”
The work of the American artist Jim Dine touched her so deeply that she used it directly in her Spring-Summer 2000 collection. “I saw his work in a gallery and it gave me a knot in my stomach… I wanted to translate this emotional impact into my work, so I sent him a letter. Two weeks later, he came to Antwerp. Our collaboration resulted in a series of asymmetrical dresses with silver-grey photographic prints of birds.”
Ann Demeulemeester regularly completed her silhouettes with meaningful neck jewellery that also serve as talismans. The poetic effect is reinforced by such organic materials as leather, feathers and mother-of-pearl.
SUCCESSOR: SÉBASTIEN MEUNIER (2013-2020)
In 2013, Ann Demeulemeester stepped down from her label, selecting Sébastien Meunier to continue her signature with a sober use of colour, layered silhouettes and poetic sources of inspiration. In 2020, the house was purchased by Claudio Antonioli, owner of the eponymous multi-brand fashion store in Milan.
Author: Romy Cockx
Photo above: Marleen Daniëls