Ludovic de Saint Sernin’s debut collection is a love letter to Ann Demeulemeester – WWD

Paris — “You don’t get that many debuts in your career,” Ludovic de Saint Sernin told WWD in an exclusive interview ahead of his debut collection as creative director for Ann Demeulemeester on Saturday.

De Saint Sernin, 32, was appointed in December, a sign of a new era that began with the acquisition of the brand by Italian retailer Claudio Antonioli in 2020, with a stated aim of restoring the storied label to its former glory .

“I was very struck by the idea of ​​a designer embracing another designer’s legacy and being reminded of how good and amazing it is,” said the Paris-based designer, who will continue to lead his eponymous label.

Demeulemeester’s makeover is a major undertaking, not least because many of his generations and those following are unaware of the Belgian designer and her role in the era-defining Antwerp Six. “So there’s this whole thing of just highlighting everything that she’s done and owning it back and giving her that power back and then taking her to the next level for the future,” he said.

His first chapter for Ann Demeulemeester, which will be unveiled at 8pm on Saturday at the Lycée Carnot in Paris, will be “a love letter”.

To announce her departure in late 2013, Demeulemeester had sent handwritten letters to all her creative staff and select members of the press, thanking them and explaining that her path would be parted from her eponymous label.

“It was a very emotional time and my idea is to pick up where I left off,” de Saint Sernin said, hinting that the first look of the fall 2023 collection would symbolize this letter coming to life.

If he’s been taciturn about much of what he’ll be presenting, it’s because he wants viewers of Saturday’s show to form their own interpretation of what he promises to be a sensual and poetic moment, but also because they ” should enjoy the show as the best art form of this revelation.”

“Ann was all about shows,” he said. “She hasn’t taken many pictures and all you know of her are runway photos.”

Among the highlights of the season, he named the white shirt because it’s the first thing that comes to mind when he thinks of the brand, and a new version of the three-hole dress, where the entire construction of four darts will depend.

Additionally, he pushes the gender fluid approach, adapting cuts to ensure a flattering fit for female or male bodies, unlike his own brand. He also spoke about the riding style, not as a literal reference, but because he liked the “energy and attitude.”

There will be accessories and shoes to match shoes, which are a big part of Ann Demeulemeester’s business, so he wanted “an amazing pair of boots” with her signature. In fact, he wants to “take all of these amazing techniques and use them as a signature for Ann Demeulemeester” because he doesn’t plan on putting a huge logo on anything.

Overall, he’s planning a “mature approach where I also want to present myself as a couturier,” as opposed to his own brand, where he prefers not to take himself too seriously and “don’t feel the need to spell it out at people.” .

Immediately after his nomination, the new creative director dove into the 2,000-page tome about Demeulemeester’s work published by Rizzoli in 2014, a compendium he called “a bible with every single image of every single show she’s ever done” and described his work as an incredible source for them.

“My first instinct was to go through this book and find myself in it,” he recalled, citing the ’90s, and 1997-2000 in particular, as a moment in which he particularly recognized himself.

But he also encountered the autobiographical nature of a brand Demeulemeester still calls “her baby”; their tireless work ethic; the sensuality built into each garment and the way their aesthetic has fused into a community — all traits he thinks they share.

In order to approach “such a personal brand and such a poetic and beautiful story,” de Saint Sernin felt he had to “get inside the character,” going as far as trying on archival looks that he pulled from the book because he “wanted to know how it felt” since photos don’t fully reveal every aspect.

As daunting as it initially seemed, he found it a luxury to find a collection of works, archives and messages that still feel relevant today. “And that has made my job so much easier.”

He describes the Ann Demeulemeester brand as having “that feminine touch, that intellect and at the same time that sensuality,” a mood he wants to capitalize on for this new chapter while still focusing on gender fluidity.

Another way he connected to Demeulemeester’s work was that “she really was her own muse” in creating an easily identifiable and recognizable silhouette, an exercise in self-definition that is now fashionable among his generation. And Demeulemeester’s muse Patti Smith has a personal meaning, too.

“[Smith] changed my whole life reading her book ‘Just Kids’ which I’ve quoted since the very first season I launched my own brand,” he said, calling the book “a defining moment for me in terms of understanding what it means to search for your identity, to define yourself as a person – whether it’s who you are, who you love, what you love – and also as an artist, what makes you unique and different, and that to cultivate.”

This new beginning is not exactly a blank slate. Not only does he have access to the house’s archives, but he also works with collaborators such as stylist Olivier Rizzo, who made his debut with the Belgian designer.

He also had the opportunity to meet Demeulemeester himself. She’s not involved with the brand in any formal capacity, but she towers over her eponymous label as a benevolent, gentle, yet alert presence.

“I thought it was such a beautiful gift that she gave me because she’s very discreet and very private,” he gushed, calling their time together a blessing and a reminder of the heavy responsibility that comes with their name and legacy .

The acting artistic director has confidence in his ability to “deliver something that will open a new chapter for the brand”, but he also feels that it all comes with a responsibility to shine a light on Demeulemeester’s ongoing creative practice , like the crockery and lighting and now she designs furniture lines with the Belgian brand Serax.

Much of the exercise, he says, is a way of making that archived vocabulary his own and proving he has what it takes to take Ann Demeulemeester forward.

“After that, I think I’ll just spread my wings and see where that takes me,” de Saint Sernin said. Ludovic de Saint Sernin’s debut collection is a love letter to Ann Demeulemeester – WWD

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