Paris – Ludovic de Saint Sernin’s debut with Ann Demeulemeester last weekend in Paris was eagerly awaited. It turned out to be a simple homage that was perhaps a little too simple.
In recent weeks and months, names have once again shuffled around in the organization charts of the fashion industry. Contracts between labels and designers are getting shorter, on average three years, while in the past it was sometimes 10 years. If there is no spark between the brand and the designer, it soon sounds like “next!”. In London, Daniel Lee took Burberry’s torch two weeks ago, and in Paris, Harris Reed and Ibrahim Kamara unveiled their first collections for Nina Ricci and Off-White respectively last week.
And then there was Ann Demeulemeester, whose new art director Ludovic de Saint Sernin made his runway debut on Saturday night.
The Belgian brand has existed since 1985 and was founded by Demeulemeester and her husband and right-hand man, Patrick Robyn. The couple has not been associated with the company since 2013. It was then sold to businesswoman Anne Chapelle. French designer Sébastien Meunier, who has been designing men’s collections for several years, became the creative director.
In 2021, the label changed hands again. It was acquired by Italian businessman Claudio Antonioli, who owns boutiques in Milan (where he has been selling Ann Demeulemeester since 1987), Turin, Lugano and Ibiza, as well as the Volt club in Milan. Antonioli also co-founded the New Guards Group (NGG), the group behind fashion brands such as Off/White, Palm Angels and Ambush. Several years ago, NGG was sold to e-commerce giant Farfetch; but Antonioli himself is no longer associated with the group.
“I don’t want the brand to change completely,” Antonioli told FashionUnited after the Ann Demeulemeester relaunch last year. “There’s no rush. But I want to prepare us for the future. Fashion isn’t for 60-somethings. Fashion appeals to people in their 20s and 30s, and we want to reach them. With respect to Ann Demeulemeester’s DNA. “
By then, Sébastien Meunier had waved goodbye. The label and studio moved from Antwerp to Milan. Antonioli brought Demeulemeester and Robyn back on board. Demeulemeester gave behind-the-scenes advice; Robyn’s responsibilities included redesigning the flagship store in Antwerp.
The couple also sat front row at the brand’s first show under Antoniola. This show and the next one, both for Paris Fashion Week, were designed by an in-house team. The collections followed the designer’s heritage, with many reinterpretations of archival pieces. They were positively received but had relatively little impact, despite Cher’s front-row appearance last season.
It wasn’t surprising. In Paris, during Fashion Week, it’s getting harder and harder for an independent fashion house to stand out from the mega-spectacular luxury houses and younger brands that are making more effective use of social media, such as Jacquemus and Coperni, who achieved gigantic spray-painting results last season with a Bella Hadid dress on the runway.
Ludovic de Saint Sernin makes his Ann Demeulemeester debut
Late last year, Ann Demeulemeester quite unexpectedly announced a new art designer: Brussels-born but French-raised Ludovic de Saint Sernin.
The designer, who launched her own label in 2017 and occasionally appears in shows as a model, specializes in (literally) sneakers with lots of glitter, often genderfluid. At first glance, De Saint Sernin and Demeulemeester had nothing in common, except perhaps for the Parisian’s Venetian blond curls.
But De Saint Sernin has a wide fan base, especially young fans, and a powerful network. He is digitally gifted. One of his first steps was to replace Michèle Montagne, the legendary Parisian press attaché who had accompanied Demeulemeester since the 1990s and who had helped with the styling of the shows for many years, through the agency of Lucien Pagès, responsible, among others, for the for Coperni’s acrobatics.
De Saint Sernin began working for the brand with a series of six photos of himself wearing archival Demeulemeester pieces. Then came the gig on Saturday night at the Lycée Carnot, a high school that often hosts shows – Acne Studios also landed there earlier this week.
The debut, like these selfies, was extremely indebted to the archives: black leather suits and white shirts for boys, long silk skirts for girls; sturdy walking shoes; strands; plumes – in the first and last glance, the leather feather served as a kind of bandeau, and several models, amazingly all women, crossed their arms over dove breasts in front of their naked breasts.
“It was my way of saying that after this first step, I would spread my wings and express myself,” the designer later said backstage.
He called the collection a tribute to Demeulemeester, based on a 2014 book featuring photos from all of the designer’s shows, from her debut to her last collection in 2013, printed on fine bible paper. In it, he preferred the period between more or less 1997 and 2000, because it was in this period that he recognized himself the most. He would meet with her and be advised to give his best and work hard.
Maybe work harder. All in all, it was a collection that weighed rather lightly, both figuratively and literally – with the exception of bits of leather, jackets and coats were barely visible. Demeulemeester was known for its moody, poetic spectacles, but De Saint Sernin never once managed to create or even recreate such an atmosphere. Magic was missing. Moreover, the difference from the collection of his predecessor Sébastien Meunier was rather small. A simple homage to Ann Demeulemeester may not be enough to get kids hooked on the story. For older fans of the brand, the De Saint Sernin collection is a poor copy of the “real”, “light” Demeulemeester. And younger consumers are eagerly awaiting the French designer’s own vision. What does Ann Demeulemeester mean now in the 21st century? Perhaps next season the designer will find the answer to this question.
This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.NL. Translation and editing by Rachel Douglass.