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Decoding Ann Demeulemeester's return to her namesake label

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

Sep 6, 2021

Fashion

Image: Ann Demeulemeester Antwerp store

When Ann Demeulemeester quietly exited her namesake label in 2013 she kept the most important asset: her name. Unlike designers Jil Sander, Helmut Lang, Roland Mouret (until he bought it back), Calvin Klein, Halston and Thierry Mugler, Demeulemeester closed the industry door behind her but didn’t throw away the key.

It was fashion’s unrelentless pace that Demeulemeester sought to leave behind, but the brand’s DNA lived forth when it was bought for an undisclosed sum by Anne Chappelle, Belgium’s most powerful businesswoman in fashion, who also owns the Haider Ackermann label. Chappelle last year sold the Demeulemeester business to Italian fashion entrepreneur Claudio Antonioli, founder of his namesake boutiques in Milan and Lugano, and an early partner of the New Guards Group. Antonioli had long stocked the brand and championed Demeulemeester’s design aesthetic since the beginning.

Antonioli has vowed to return the brand to its glory days, albeit with a focus on luxury, when its dark and moody tailoring was sold via the world’s most prestigious boutiques. The company’s flagship store in Antwerp remains a destination for fashion lovers, with its never-ending ceiling height, botanical garden and minimalist collections. The premises were recently revamped by Demeulemeester’s husband, Patrick Robyn, and echo the brand’s codes with dark wooden floors and crisp, white plastered walls.

Fashion and lifestyle

Amongst the fashion sits Demeulemeester’s new passion, her homeware and lighting ranges made in collaboration with Serax, a Belgian B2B interior design company. Beautiful ceramicwares and hand-blown glassware are displayed on the ground floor. They make a refreshing curation from the obligatory handbags and small leather goods that are meant to drive sales.

Image: Ann Demeulemeester Antwerp store

To the surprise of many, Demeulemeester last week confirmed her return, not as its creative director – she will not be designing collections at this point – but to oversee special projects, such as creating the house’s first perfume. The quiet nod of approval by having the founder involved will help elevate the brand to flourish, in a way Chapelle’s business couldn’t.

Since acquiring the brand, Antonioli has been busy behind the scenes, relocating the company’s design office to Italy, where production is expected to be more streamlined and efficient. According to Business of Fashion, photographer Willy Vanderperre and stylist Oliver Rizzo, well-known for their Raf Simons collaborations, will head up artistic direction. New boutiques are slated to open in New York, Tokyo and London and Milan, the first sign of Antonioli’s ambitious expansions plans, and reducing its reliance on wholesale, a strategy many luxury brands have embraced to retain quality and more exclusive distribution.

Ann Demeulemeester will present its spring summer 2022 collection in Paris on October 3rd.