Ann Demeulemeester was born in Kortrijk, Belgium in 1959 and studied fashion at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp from 1978 to 1981. On graduating she worked for six years as a freelance designer for international ready-to-wear men’s and women’s collections, before launching her own company, B.V.B.A “32,” in 1985.
Demeulemeester is associated with a group of designers, which includes Dirk Bikkembergs, Dries Van Noten, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Van Saene, Marina Yee, and Martin Margiela, who emerged from Belgium in the mid-1980s and were known for their postmodern, “deconstructive” use of materials and avant-garde forms. Although the individual styles and identities of these designers vary widely, as a collective they are comparable to the Japanese designers of the early 1980s, who challenged Western clothing conventions that determined good taste and the “perfect fit” and gave new definitions to notions of femininity and masculinity.
Demeulemeester is known for her rational, quasi-scientific approach to designing, where the garment’s construction can be seen as a form of problem-solving which is worked out over several successive fashion seasons. She tests out new creations on herself and a select group of friends, altering the emphasis of the design to fit the wearer’s physique and give an overall sense of balance to the garment. This experimental approach results in cutting-edge but wearable designs, tailored to suit the individual and inspired not so much by fashion history as the broader discourses of philosophy, science, and sociology. As Luc Derycke explains: “Demeulemeester’s main interest is the intimate relationship between clothes and their individual wearers. The loaded simplicity of her designs inhabits a ‘zone’ in which the person who wears them feels confronted by the outside world and with him/herself.”
Demeulemeester’s work is characterized by flowing lines, a close attention to detail, an artfully conceived cut, unusual pairings of fabrics and textures (hard to control materials, such as leather and fur, are contrasted with supple fabrics, such as rayon and viscose) and a lack of ornament and color. She explains her fascination with a monochromatic palette: “If you look at a black-and-white picture, everything you need to explain a silhouette, a contrast, a mood, is there. It’s the essence.” Demeulemeester is dedicated to creating clothing that communicates, from designer to wearer. In her own words: “A collection is like creating a gift for an anonymous person.”
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