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Dispatch From Antwerp: Ann Demeulemeester on The Future of Menswear

In the 1980s, a group of graduates from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts stormed the London fashion scene toting clothes like no one had seen before. There was no doubt about it: Fashion was about to swerve in a new direction.

One member of the crew, a young designer named Ann Demeulemeester, had recently won the Golden Spindle award for best young fashion designer. And it was Demeulemeester who would later quip that she and her cohorts were branded the “Antwerp Six” because no one could pronounce their names.

Now, of course, Ann Demeulemeester is a name recognized across the globe—even if it’s sometimes mispronounced and often misspelled. Her designs, too, are instantly recognizable to those who follow fashion—marked by an ease of movement, deconstructed shapes and cutting-edge technique. Last year, her work reached an even broader audience when it was included in a show at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, a notable achievement regardless of where your opinion lies in the fashion as art debate.

But let’s get to the point. In 2005, Demeulemeester debuted her first menswear collection in Paris. Her clientele, she told us, would be men who were adventurous, artistic, strong and confident—precisely the attributes of the Barneys New York customer, in fact. Naturally, we asked her to tell us more. Below, the enigmatic designer describes her work in her own words.

What is the hallmark of your menswear? In other words, what stays constant year to year?
It’s made for the boys and the men who understand our vision – it’s like soul mates finding each other. It’s a circle of communication with artistic, adventurous, intriguing, intelligent, confident, poetic, strong and free men.

And what is new in your men’s collection this season?
The graphic abstraction – new silhouettes and proportions – prints touched by light – sophisticated and pure – strong but poetic.

What inspired this collection?
Birds, details of their feathers lead us to abstractions for specific prints – contrasts – colors.

Do you have any style icons?
These invented, intriguing men in my head who inspire me and who I would love to meet…

What are 5 things you can’t live without?
Love – hope – my husband – my son – creativity in all fields….

You’re often referred to as an “avant garde” designer; what does that mean to you?
To be able to find new propositions, my work is valuable if I can give what is not there yet….

What do you think about when designing for men? Is it different from designing for women?
Of course! They have a completely different body to start with and besides that, it’s the eternal contrast and mystery between men and women that is so inspiring. It’s the masculinity/femininity, the tension/contrast of both in one person that makes a human being so interesting!

If you could collaborate with anyone—living, dead or fictional—on a collection, who would it be?
It just would be so nice to have a chat with Brancusi, Rimbaud, Marcel Duchamp, Virginia Woolf, Le Corbusier, William Blake, Woody Allen, Cy Twombly, Monet, Man Ray, Gerhard Richter, …

What direction would you like to see fashion go in the future?
Let fashion find the strength again to look forward, confident in the future, free of conservatism, giving, creating new energy…

1. Belted band collar shirt 2. Martin long shirt 3. Dip dye sleeve sweater 4. Lucian shirt 5. Crow coat 6. Era trouser 7. Plain toe tall boot 8. Low top sneaker 9. Plain toe gusset boot 10. Plain toe double side zip boot

Shop Ann Demeulemeester at Barneys.com.

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