A legacy can be honoured, but when a designer as charismatic and soulful as Ann Demeulemeester leaves her house, it’s virtually impossible to keep the fire of her personal work burning. Demeulemeester was her house, with all her heart and poetry, and used her collections to peacefully express her visions for the world. Above all, she wanted us to feel. The darkness of her aesthetic was a representation of the depths of her mind and never as simple as ‘gothy’ or ‘moody’. Through it, she communicated her magical sense of romance, serenity and often overwhelming gift for beauty. Like her collections, Demeulemeester’s shows were loaded with a ceremonious poignancy, from the moving soundtracks to the religious solemnity of her much-used Couvent des Cordeliers venue.
For their first show fronting the house, Sébastian Meunier, Mirjam van den Akker and Patrick van Ommeslaeghe chose that same location, boding a continuation of the tone Demeulemeester set for her label. It created a familiar frame around a show, which for the most other parts seemed to declare a departure from Demeulemeester’s main ideas. The soundtrack was hard and metallic, the cast looked less like the delicate elves who used to walk that hallowed runway, and the garments were largely minimalist with only subtle references to the embellished Demeulemeester spirit. If some people have an idea of the house as ‘rock ‘n’ roll’, perhaps with a touch of elegance, this was the aesthetic conveyed by the new designers. Drapey black dresses with various tying mechanism, worn with leather leggings and sporty, kind of sexy heels, had a Helmut Lang-like quality about them, while simpler floor-length numbers were reminiscent of a black take on Ghost. Demeulemeester isn’t just a brilliant designer but also a brilliant stylist, and when it came to the details she would always add to her shows – the perfectly placed feather, a strip of pane – her absence here was evident.
It was in the dark gold elements of the menswear that another ghost, namely that of Demeulemeester herself, poked its head out. Here, the richness added by gold trousers, lapels, a shirt, and shoes to the otherwise very ‘edgy streetwear’ look of the new Ann man bordered on the quiet opulence the designer mastered so incomparably. If there was a message to take away from the show it was a daring statement of change for the more commercial: an embrace of the stripped-down ease that currently appeals to the mainstream high fashion consumer, but a commendable willingness to keep the Ann Demeulemeester house in business. As for its namesake, wherever you are, we salute you.