When Ann Demeulemeester sent a hand-written note to the press last November announcing that she was leaving her eponymous label, there was an audible gasp from the fashion world. Ann is one of the Antwerp Six who sat the fashion world on its post-minimalist ear back in the 80s, and her collections have been continually well received, including her Spring/Summer line that is in stores now. Immediately, there were questions swirling as to the state of the 55-year-old designer’s health (it’s fine, thank you for asking) and why she was choosing now to leave (She says she always knew she wouldn’t be a designer her entire life). Perhaps more importantly, though, was the question of who would take her place?
Ann did not make this decision to leave suddenly or quickly. In fact, she told her business partner Anne Chapel some eight years ago that she would be departing and that they needed to prepare the label to continue without her. While it doesn’t seem likely that Ann fully intended to leave with a whole team of designers taking her place, that is what happened. Mirjam van den Akker, Sébastien Meunier and Patrick van Ommeslaeghe designed this fall/winter collection, which also shows mens wear in addition to the women’s ready to wear. The result was a different, yet not so different, collection that paid some homage to the label’s long and storied career while at the same time setting a firm foot toward the future.
“This is not, and very not, Ann Demeulemeester,” moaned one person as he was leaving the show. No doubt, those who have been following her styles for several years found plenty to miss. There are no prints. There are no hats. There are no sheers. Gone is any sense of flash, bang, or pow that one might normally expect Ann to bring to a collection.
Yet, all is not lost. This is still a collection that is very much about folding, draping, and gathering, all of which Ann applied masterfully and a tradition the label continues. From the outset, Ann preferred darker palettes, and with little exception (there are three white pieces for women and three pieces for men with touches of gold) this collection is done in all black. There are touches of leather, especially in the men’s set, but the women’s is still very soft. One person lamented that the women’s wear felt more feminine, but I had no problem finding plenty of the androgyny for which the label is known. Perhaps it is a matter of seeing that for which one is looking.
By the end of the show, I felt a bit as though as if I had just attended a funeral. Perhaps, in some way, this was an opportunity to politely put Ann’s career to rest. Surely, the label is well positioned to carry on without her, and Jil Sander is proof that one can always resurrect their career multiple times should the desire and need arise. One this is certain: this is a different Ann Demeulemeester now and it will continue to grow and evolve.