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HAIDER ACKERMANN

Interview by Filep Motwary

« Apart from being known for leading a very private life outside fashion, Haider Ackermman is not a big fan of interviews either.

Yet today he is talkative, in a very good mood having just returned from India. From what I saw on his Instagram account, he was accompanied by Tilda Swinton and super hype Indian-American actor and designer Waris Ahluwalia {*}.

Ackermann started his womenswear line in 2003 and launched his first full menswear collection exactly a decade later.

Poetry, eroticism, shifts of color and shapes, mystery, sensuality and darkness are reflected in both collections through multi-layered silhouettes, draping disguised in incredible textures.

His voice is soft and warm with incredible wit. »

FilepMotwary: Hey Haider how are you? How was India?

HaiderAckermann: After doing three defiles in January it was deserved. We all need moments to escape, you know, and this was a great one.

F.M: At first I though this interview would focus only on your menswear.

I was happily surprised when my editor told me it would also involve your FW women’s. I received this collection as a strong example of severity and sensuality with loud echoes of masculinity. Only this time Haider, it had a very clean, very quiet linear darkness on top of your incredible construction approach.

What is the origin of it?

H.A: You know I think we live in a quite crazy world at this moment that craves for attention. Everybody is screaming out loud and there is a kind of madness outhere on [seriously] so many levels that I just wanted to show-out something very quiet and calm and peaceful. I was in search for some sort of invisibility or discretion, my moment of silence. As said before, I was very touched by what happened recently, whether it was in America or Paris…Like for example the story of this young guy, Theo, who was raped by two policemen. How can one heal all that? Or when I watched the movie Moonlight or listened to black-Americans talking about the general situation – that we all are very aware of anyway- but personally speaking, all of that came like a slap to my face more than ever before. I just wanted to have something more silent as my reaction and through my work.

F.M: I would never expect from you to be political.

H.A: It’s not a question of being political.

It’s more about the emotion and being touched by what surrounds me. As a designer, I am not entitled to be political and definitely this is not the message I would like to send out. Yet, I am allowed to express what I feel about situations around me and how they affect me. When I see this injustice, emotions come out easy. I never thought I would play Nina Simone “Wild is the wind” in my show but it was a period for me when I was thinking of all those people who fought all their lives for human rights.

Nina Simone was one of the leaders of that movement and being herself quite violent about it.. So it was this and it was her as well. Then I was thinking of playing David Bowie’s version of the song but as he represents for me another type of hero, I didn’t dare touch that. Also the song was a direct message to one person attending the show to hear it out loud especially: “…love me love me and fly away with me…”.

Its was a combination of all that!

F.M: I know you’re very protective of your privacy and its refreshing to see you opening up.

H.A: Sometimes one needs to open up as a reaction. Its not about racing your voice, its about showing presence and awareness.

F.M: You are very disciplined and loyal to the woman you design for. She doesn’t change every season, she evolves by walking in circles around her personality and needs by adding or removing things and redefining her assets even.

How difficult it is to remain true to your vision, the core of Haider Ackermann and also to be relevant every season?

H.A: You know, I can only draw and do always based on my observations, experiences and what is inside of me. The difficulty perhaps, comes when you are forced to think of what your next steps will be. [laughs]

That moment of anxiety becomes a vital force to move forward, that second when you put yourself in doubt! And we all need to be challenged in order to act! Making a collection that is hardly black, cream nor white, of course includes fear of how people will react. But at some point you just simply have to try it- since this is what you want – otherwise you will never know.

You just have to do without questioning yourself that much..

The luxury that I have – that not really luxury -is the amount of work I have at the moment that gives me less time to think. [laughs]

F.M: Haider, if we place down the timeline of your collections, one after the other, what we see is actually the exact same woman. I said this before.

H.A: Yes, you are right. It’s a confirmation that I am in that league of designers that are constantly in search of their own signature and continue to walk on that same road. Perhaps I have a lack of talent to be someone different every season.

I get more profound with the woman I design for as time passes.

F.M: I am surprised really for the fact that you haven’t yet presented a couture collection, based on the methodology and artisanal of your cut. Have you thought about it yet?

H.A: I was raised in the North-African countries where along the Medina, women in chadors are vanishing and disappearing in the narrow streets. When one unveils them, an orgy of colour and glitter captures your eye. The sound of bangles, and jewellery, the meters of the most exquisite embroidered fabrics, all of this is quite a close approach to one calls ‘’ haute couture “.

When I saw Christian Lacroix Haute Couture, I constantly fell in love because his work reminded me so much of my childhood. It was a very “well-ordered” chaos! All these artisanal elements make me dream. So I would say it’s a dream for me to do Haute Couture, yes!

F.M: What’s your take on Haute Couture in general.

H.A: Its another approach that requires certain things, an atelier , a different team and so on. I come from the “Belgian school” of designers, working with a Belgian company and Haute Couture is kind of far away from us, as we are more anchored in reality and the business side of it. Not that Haute Couture is not selling, because it does. But I think there is a time for everything and the day that I will do Haute Couture, I need to be really ready for it.

It’s like climbing Kilimanjaro you know, going as high as possible and one needs to be ready for such a chapter. I am a designer who does things step by step.

F.M: To generalize this question, does Haute Couture borrow creative “freedom” from prêt-a- porter today?

H.A: Most definitely. What is Haute Couture at the end? It’s a dream that you can capture. It was created to embellish the woman and make her even more graceful that she might already be, to provoke even more elegant gestures. Couture serves as a stolen moment, it specifies situations and that’s the beauty of it.

I wore this at that party or that dinner with these and these guests. Prêt a porter offers more intimacy through the clothes; you wear and have several memories in them.

I still use clothes that I bought ten years ago. They give me a notion of belonging.

But still, more and more today, Haute Couture and prêt a porter, they borrow ideas from each other.

F.M: Haider, how has your observing and your applying pro­cess changed through the years?

H.A: Your observation doesn’t change while everything is a “growing” process. For me this is a continues journey, a book that I am writing and each collection serves as the next chapter. Of course I would like to take the reader further and further and perhaps every next chapter will be heavier or more loaded than the previous, and this just to intrigue the reader.

This is how I see the collections. It demands more and more of you as you go. The business aspect is also attached on this creative journey.. It brings and takes maturity of course and it also offers you knowledge. We are standing here already 12 years in the business, so it is something…

F.M: We are going through very turbulent times in so many levels. In fashion things really get narrowed in, there is the element of decline and transition.

Where is Haider standing, how do you see these facts?

H.A: You know there’s so much happening. For example we have elections now here in France and I was watching the debates for a few days now. Its confronting yet also very interesting because it raises many questions. Of course people are still concentrated on the most stupid things and its getting horrifying. I mean all politics all over the world hit us below the belt as politicians fail to discuss the real human problems. It is a moment where we need to pause and question what really goes on in the society and what made people vote for someone like Trump, for example.

What is wrong, truly wrong is a society that Marie Le Pen is making change in France. What is wrong with us? Let stick together and work solving these issues, question why do these people have the power, why we gave it to them ? It is indeed a very interesting period of transitions and we can only move forward.

It is very hard on my side to discuss these matters because although I have my thoughts and opinion, I lack of knowledge and the real politics-ground base. I can speak from the heart.

It is a must to look at beauty for guidance when times are difficult, read a fantastic book, look at amazing art, be taken away by ballet and be transported. We all need to escape. It’s hardcore out there. I can only say this.

F.M: How can we eliminate superficiality in fashion and how it has evolved?

H.A: I don’t think we can limit superficiality and we should not eliminate it to begin with. If we attempt this it means we want to be in control or dictatorial and there’s already too much control in everything. I cannot talk about how others think but for me I do what I feel as the best to do and always give my 200%. I would like to be one of the designers’ known for beauty and grace rather than anything else. Perhaps the biggest compliment we designers get from women is that they feel comfortable and loved in our clothes. That’s why the circus around, the entire social networks and everything are not really my priority.

Lets just make nice clothes, that’s the goal. All that’s happening around is just passing in front of me. I am too much busy in my office to be aware of it.

F.M: I was present at your first menswear attempt in Florence, I think it was in 2010 and then at your first official menswear presentation in Paris in 2013 (SS14). In all of your men’s collection there’s something extremely rebellious but also very exotic, dark and very erotic: all elements that are still present in your 17FW collection? How do these elements reflect manhood in your opinion?

H.A: You know for many years I had a very, very dark side. And trust me darkness is a part of me. I was quite a tormented person seeking beauty through some sort of ugliness; it really attracted and intrigued me at the same time, this twisted-ness. Now I am much more calm. The erotic side, I think we all have it but I wasn’t aware I was expressing it my work.

You are the first telling me about it and I love the idea.

F.M: But of course. Eroticism was reflected even from your turtle necks, the way they were cut. The combination with the red high-waist trousers… Super sexy although you could not see an inch of flesh!

H.A: Oh my! Filep [laughs} Well I am not trying to make an erotic or sexual collection at all. The guy who wears Haider’s clothes is a kind of a daydreamer. He is the type that sometimes doesn’t give a damn. He has this kind of freedom to be whatever he would like to be at that moment.

F.M: Indeed but he is also very aware of what he wardrobe is about.

H.A: He is and he is not because often when I do the styling, for example, certain accidents come together to achieve a certain look. How some things don’t fit with each-other and therefore this combination might end up being something really stimulating. If you see what I mean.

So unconsciously he might be aware. The men that I have always admired were not conscious about their clothes, they mixed-up things together. Sometimes they made sense other times not but this can result to something eclectic, eccentric and super interesting. I like this man. Its not me, perhaps he is the man I would like to be and I would like to admit that I am always fascinated by guys who step out of shapes. Everything is so formatted nowadays that is nice to see, I don’t like to call them peacocks but daydreamers instead, who go around absorbing life. This kind of freedom reflects sexuality to me.

FM: Who is the man you dress if I asked you to define him in a possible Haider Ackermann vocabulary? How different he is from the woman you dress? Could you describe each for me?

HA: It is entirely two different worlds. As said before, perhaps the Haider man is a reflection of what I would like to be. I remember for my first menswear show in Florence, the cast was all guys with bodies full of tattoos. I found it tremendously romantic and beautiful in the sense that they had all those words written on their skin. It was like reading their diaries because there was a story behind each tattoo, the date it was made, the reason. When they took off their own clothes to get dressed for the show, the vision of those bodies was something extraordinary. I would love to be like those guys, those poets – because they are poets at the end of the day- they go through pain to achieve beauty on their flesh.

I like the men I represent to be without limits or frontiers, no borders. He is wearing leather but he also wears silk at the same time and then he puts on a big sweatshirt. I don’t want him to be one kind of a person and ideally I would like all men to find a piece in my menswear that would represent them somehow.

The Haider woman…hmmm, I keep a different distance with the woman. I do fantasize about her but at the same time it is very restricted, as I am a different person. I search in her some sort of dignity and gracefulness and to have these qualities you need to be a little bit more in control, like women do.

 

F.M: Do you strive for complexity when designing, for example?

HA: Yes! I am friends with designers who are just drawing out of their hands, quite easily without questioning anything. And I admire it. I am not one of them, for me everything is much more complex as I need to put myself in a certain mood and situation in order to create. Sometimes filled with fears and doubts. Perhaps the process while creating menswear goes a bit smoother compared to the women’s collection.

FM: How does critique serve, your next steps? Do you read?

HA: Yes, I do read most probably all of them, they truly interest me.

Sometimes you read them and just put them aside whist others make you think, doubt, become better. Some of them stay with you for years and you cherish them for different reasons.

A critique, even a bad one, must be well written. To offer the reasons why something was good or the opposite, with full explanation, before the verdict.

A verdict without a story is useless.

On the other side I believe there’s too much criticism at the moment, everybody and everything is out in the open. Personally I think it is wrong because it takes away the mystery and romance of what once used to be. We don’t have to justify everything, show everything… It kills imagination and desire. The social media make things even worse.

FM: Has the evolution of social media and instant images affected your way of creating fashion shows? I know you pay more attention to the backstage set up than what you used to.

HD: I am quite protected from it I have to say. I don’t have Facebook or Twitter. I only have Instagram. Are you following me? [laughs]

FM: Of course, religiously…[laughs}

HA: So yes, as I was saying the only reason I opened an account was to protect the ownership of my name, in case someone else used it and perhaps for the voyeur in me to check what other people are doing every now and then.

As long as I don’t get addicted and can keep some distance from it. To be honest though I don’t spend much time on it [laughs]. I think I made over 200 pictures in India and just posted two of them, so…

FM: Yes, I saw the pictures with the elephant and another of you and Tilda [Swinton] staring at the sun.

Another thing I loved about your women’s FW show was the blue backdrop placed backstage especially for the photographers to shoot the girls. Nobody really does that.

H.A: Yes, you know it was a bit complicated to do this interview in India how we initially indented. I was surrounded by tigers [laughs] into the wild with her and that was quite something…

To answer your question, yes, you know all those backstage pictures, season after season, sometimes the girls and the clothes almost disappear with all the mess in the space, chairs, hangers, wires etc. It was important for me to have the same mood backstage as the one of the show. This is why we made the effort to create that space especially for the photographers working backstage.

F.M: Is the role of the designer different today compared to what it was 10-15 years back and even earlier?

H.A: Yes. Although when we say, “it was different” it always implies a negative mood. Yes it was different and yes it was something more joyful but I am very exited also about what the future will bring for us designers. There is nostalgia and at the same time I want to see what’s next, how fashion will evolve and move.

 F.M: This is a question I always ask designers.

Why do we always try to reinvent and redefine the silhouette?

H.A: Re-invent? I don’t think we re-invent. Everything has been done and we just try to find new codes and we’re even trying to appropriate our own. Nowadays, there is so much copying of everything and the approach is a bit different than what it was.

Yes, we try to make new silhouettes but there is no place for re-invention. There are only a handful of designers who are really producing what is technically, or image wise, proportion-wise new and might be indeed a re-invention.

F.M: If you had to pick one element that is consistent throughout your whole career…?

 H.A: A scarf! It is there to protect you, to touch you, to seduce you…

Special Haider Ackermann & interview by Filep Motwary published in BOYCOTT MAGAZINE issue 05, Paris. Photographed by Clara Giaminardi at Katy Barker. Styled by Simon Pylyser. Portrait photo of Haider Ackermann by Filep Motwary 2013 © Follow Boycott Magazine on Facebook.

Thank you Ibtissame Bellehouane (Sam) and Michele Montagne

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SHORT BIO

Haider Ackermann (born 29 March 1971) is a Colombian-born designer of ready-to-wear fashion. He is the current Creative Director of Berluti.

In 2003, Haider Ackermann created his own label and presented his first women’s wear collection during Paris Fashion Week.  In 2005, he joined the Belgian company bvba 32 headed by Anne Chapelle. In June 2013, the Ann Demeulemeester and Haider Ackermann became two independent companies.  Influenced by cultural differences, Haider Ackermann is recognized to be a true colorist and to have an energetically stylized eye.  His clothes convey a refined contrast of strength and sensuality whose main aim is to empower women and men.  Currently living in Paris, he travels regularly between his ateliers in both Paris and Antwerp.