Ann Demeulemeester, who was under new ownership, returned to the catwalk with a new creative team in October and will be a special guest at Pitti Uomo’s fashion fair in Florence in February. Demeulemeester resigned in 2013 but is content with the brand’s new direction.
Ann Demeulemeester, between the future and the past
Ann Demeulemeester’s label was not doing well for some time. The brand had been searching for new energy since the departure of the iconic designer in 2013. Sebastien Meunier was a Demeulemeester veteran and tried to reach a younger audience. However, with a limited fan base, this proved difficult. In recent years, many of the brand’s loyal customers had left, often feeling that the quality had declined.
It was also not the best timing for the label. Demeulemeester’s romantic, dark gothic essence clashed with the gaudy, poppies streetwear of the decade.
The brand’s 2020 command change was not unexpected. The Belgian label is now Italian and was designed in Milan. This could be a source of curiosity. Claudio Antonioli, an entrepreneur, has taken over the company and thanked Meunier, for his services. An in-house team has since designed the line.
Renovated flagship store in Antwerp
Demeulemeester approved the change in course. Demeulemeester approved the change of course. However, the designer will no longer be designing collections.
Claudio Antonioli confirmed to FashionUnited that Ann and Ann have an agreement for the next ten year. “I don’t want to say too much about it. It’s okay to keep a little mystery around it.
Ann Demeulemeester wrote, “I see it in my role to enrich DNA in new forms,” in an email. “Ann Demeulemeester’s style is clear enough. I can allow a new team to continue their work without me.”
Antonioli has also appointed Patrick Robyn as Demeulemeester’s husband and creative partner. He was responsible for the renovation of the Antwerp flagship, Demeulemeester’s last remaining store. The store is located in the city’s south district and is housed in an old seafaring school that dates back to the 1860s. It reopened in September 2018.
Robyn stated that there was no regret or frustration about the sale of BVBA 32 last year. We achieved our goals. We are happy with the things we have accomplished. It didn’t feel like failure when we stopped. Ms. Chapelle had some ideas and we saw that the brand was moving towards the bottom in recent years. That didn’t appeal to us. Claudio Antonioli, [an unexpected savior] appeared at a point. Claudio Antonioli was a sort of saving grace for the brand.
“Ann Demeulemeester is now a lifestyle brand.”
Claudio Antonioli was the first to open a boutique in Milan, in 1987. FashionUnited via Zoom: “I was already selling Ann Demeulemeester then.” “I got to know Ann Demeulemeester and Patrick much later. “I’ve been a fan of Ann and Patrick for as long as I can remember.”
Antonioli also owned shops in Milan, Turin and Lugano, as well as Volt, a club based in Milan. He also co-founded New Guards Group (NGG), which is responsible for labels like Off-White and Palm Angels. NGG was sold to Farfetch, an e-commerce giant, a few years back. Antonioli is not involved anymore.
He said that he heard Ann Demeulemeester was up for sale and that he called Ann, Patrick and the rest. It seemed like a wonderful opportunity to continue the adventure, and in time, get back to growth.
Antonioli was able to close two deals. One was a takeover of BVBA 32 Chapelle, which is the logistic structure behind the label. He negotiated a deal with Robyn and Demeulemeester to preserve the brand name.
Robyn noted that the name “had stayed with us at that time.” “Meanwhile we also had a licensing arrangement with the company Serax for porcelain, tableware, and lamps. That licensing agreement is still in effect. For all things fashion-related, Mr. Antonioli now has the Ann Demeulemeester brand name.”
Antonioli stated that “just buying the company” was not what interested him. “I wanted the name. The brand should not be changed. It’s not my brand, as I see it. Ann Demeulemeester is my employer. There is no rush. However, I want to make sure the brand is ready for the future. Fashion isn’t meant for 60-somethings. Fashion is for people in their twenties, thirties and beyond. We want to reach them. Respect for Ann Demeulemeester’s DNA.”
At the moment, there won’t be an official artistic director to lead the design team. Antonioli stated, “It’s still too early to do that.”
Patrick Robyn stated that “To be clear” Ann has no plans to design clothes again. This was just before the flagship reopening. I don’t have a clear vision. Who knows what the future might bring? Ann is not expected to return as a designer at this time.
Ann Demeulemeester’s tableware and lamps will also be sold in the Antwerp flagship shop. Claudio Antonioli stated, “We want her to see her entire vision, her universe.” “Ann Demeulemeester has become a lifestyle brand. This must be clear in the store. If everything goes according to plan, it should be possible to open new shops in Paris or Milan in the next two to three years.
Ann Demeulemeester: “An emotion moment”
The label is now back on the catwalk. A fashion film was shown in March. The show took place during October’s Paris Fashion Week. Olivier Rizzo, who is known for his work in styling Raf Simons and Prada among other things, was the one to do the styling. Demeulemeester was the first row.
She said that she gave her first show exactly thirty years ago during FashionUnited’s chance meeting at Gare Du Nord. “I opened it at the time with a piece that read: Parents, Racontez vos reves A vos Children. Tell your children your dreams, parents. This text is back. That made me happy. It was an emotional moment. This was the first time that I had been on the other side. Since 2013, I had not been to fashion week.”
She said, “The casting was excellent, the makeup was great, and the styling was amazing. I wanted to buy a lot of clothes. You could also see the quality of the clothes if you looked closely (which was possible due to the proximity of the audience to the catwalk). This was essential to bring the brand back on track. The collections have been produced outside of Italy in recent years, but they are now being made by the same manufacturers that I used to work for.”
“Special Guest” for January’s Pitti Umomo
Ann Demeulemeester, the label, will be exhibiting at Pitti Uomo, Florence, at Stazione Leopolda. This is the abandoned train station where, in past years, Raf Simons, Undercover and others have displayed collections. The official invitation stated that the event was to celebrate Ann Demeulemeester’s history. Lapo Cianchi (communications officer at Pitti) stated that the show would be limited to a select audience and would be followed by a DJ set. The latest covid-19 wave could throw a wrench in the works, however.
Cianchi said, “We are delighted to be able Ann Demeulemeester come to Florence.” “Pitti has a long history when it comes to Belgian Fashion: Dries Van Notens, Dirk Bikkembergss, Haider Ackermanns, Glenn Martens, Raf Simons – they all have shown here.”
Ann Demeulemeester is a style we have always loved. She is non-conformist and has the ability to calmly, but still firmly, carve a place on the international stage. Claudio Antonioli, a visionary entrepreneur, has initiated a new label path that engages with Ann Demeulemeester and her standards. It is an honor to be able to reflect in Florence on a history that began 40 years ago in 1982, when Demeulemeester graduated at the Academy of Antwerp. The label was established in 1987 by NVDR. Pitti Uomo 101’s event will allow for creative expression to be exchanged, with a particular focus on younger generations. It will be a story that synchronizes past, present, and future.
Pitti Uomo will host special events for the iconic men’s labels Caruso, Kiton and Demeulemeester. Filson, an American label, will be there, marking its 125th birthday. It will also celebrate the first European licensing deal with WP Lavori, the Italian company behind Woolrich, Barbour, and Baracuta. The fair’s 101st edition runs from January 11-13.