Date: Belgian, born 1959
Biography: Austere lines, monochromatic tones, and Punk edginess characterize the work of fashion iconoclast Ann Demeulemeester. Demeulemeester, who has been dubbed “Queen Ann” by the fashion press, designs with a compelling sense of abstraction and discipline. Her designs exude both “subversive sobriety” and romantic allure. Gender is a recurring theme in her collections, and a flow of masculine and feminine elements permeates her work. “It’s wonderful if you can walk on this very fine line and study what you can do for both sexes. To take them away from the roles that history makes them play,” says Demeulemeester. Born in Waregem, Belgium, in 1959, Demeulemeester graduated from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1981. Six years later, she and five of her classmates (including Martin Margiela and Dries Van Noten) travelled to London to show their collections at the British Designer Show. Demeulemeester’s breakthrough came with her first women’s collection, when she was part of an informal group that would become known as “The Antwerp Six”—a radical and distinctive group of Belgian designers of the 1980s and 1990s. “Her great talent is in the tailoring. The way the clothes feel somehow converts you. You only really understand it when you put them on,” recalls Barbara Weiser, who bought Demeulemeester’s first collection in 1987 for her New York store, Charivari. Five years later, in 1992, Demeulemeester presented her first Paris show, where she established herself as a leading, independent, “deconstructivist” designer. She showed her first menswear collection there in 1996. Music has been a primary source of inspiration for Demeulemeester, and rock musician Patti Smith has been her greatest influence. In fact, she collaborated with Smith for her Spring 2000 collection. By attempting to solve design problems, Demeulemeester arrives at new forms, and she sees each new collection as an opportunity to fine-tune her ideas. Her work is characterized by attention to detail and precise construction. Since Demeulemeester’s retirement in 2014, French native Sebastien Meunier was named artistic director. While passing trends may veer away from Demeulemeester’s characteristic austerity, yet the brand remains true to her aesthetic vision, and continues to create the precisely cut, beautifully draped clothing that has earned Demeulemeester a loyal following.