Ann Demeulemeester, eccentric Belgian trendsetter
Ann Demeulemeester belongs to a golden generation of Belgian fashion designers. As a member of the Antwerp Six she launched her impressive career, for which she is now famous. By going against the flow, Demeulemeester has helped to change the world of fashion.
When Ann Demeulemeester studied visual arts at secondary school, few would have believed that she would one day make her name from Tokyo to Los Angeles. To begin with this West Flemish girl showed no specific interest in fashion. Only when she began becoming more involved in drawing portraits did Demeulemeester discover how people are characterised by their clothing. Therefore, in 1978, she decided to study fashion at Antwerp's Royal Academy for Fine Arts (Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten).
This is where Demeulemeester found herself in a particularly talented environment. Her generation would very soon be given the nickname Antwerp Six. Along with Dirk Bikkembergs, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Van Saene and Marina Yee she took part in the first edition of the competition called Gouden Spoel, which crowns the most promising trend collections using Belgian fabrics. Demeulemeester won the competition and in doing so took advantage of the coincidental focus on Belgian fashion. When the group of friends went off to London Fashion Week together, their international careers were launched.
Meanwhile Demeulemeester had set up her own fashion house with her husband Patrick Robyn, where she developed her first collections in an avant-garde style. In doing so she took her inspiration, not only from her circle of friends, but also from her favourite music, namely punk and grunge. As a result, in 1992, Demeulemeester was invited to display her summer collection for the first time in Paris. Being someone to go against the flow so significantly, the international press followed her with great admiration. Her career then really took off: at that time critics viewed her as one of the most important fashion designers.
In her own eccentric way Demeulemeester took the fashion world by storm. The West Flemish loved to boast the fact that she did not look at collections from other designers and she only wore her own clothes. She stuck to her black and white designs, ignored the large fashion brands and chose full gender neutrality for some of her collections. In other words she was way ahead of her time, for which she was awarded the first Flemish Cultural Prize for Design and was made an honorary citizen of her home town Waregem.
Furthermore, in 1999, Demeulemeester opened her own store for the first time in Antwerp. After this things went quickly: today the fashion house Ann Demeulemeester employs over 75 staff and has almost 300 sales outlets worldwide. At the end of 2013 it was Demeulemeester herself who decided to call it a day. She announced her departure in a handwritten note. Her fashion house continues to exist and is now run by the business woman Anne Chapelle. Even so, Demeulemeester’s influence will always live on. This eccentric Belgian may have left the world of fashion, but she will always remain an inspiration for generations to come.
Photo: © François Goizé for WWD