Despite being fashion's darling for a number of years, not to mention garnering a loyal celebrity and art following, most notably Tilda Swinton, Columbian-born designer Haider Ackermann's line still feels intimate. Like a club not marked by exclusivity, but by affinity. Everyone is welcome, but you either get it or you don't.
There is an unapologetic luxury in Ackermann's work, to the point of decadence, as if his ideal woman (and more recently, man) spends her time lounging around in pyjamas so elegant that she need not bother changing when she finally goes out in the evening. Well, maybe she'll throw a sharp-shouldered jacket if she must.
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Even a pedestrian material such as cotton jersey takes on a new meaning when Ackermann simply adds a silk ribbon to it. The message is the same - a kind of cultivated laziness that comes not from sloth but from the luxury of not having to deal with quotidian existence, its routine and banality. Another thing that prevents Ackermann's clothes from being ordinary is his masterly use of colour. His hues are so rich they negate any trace of the gauche in the clothing. When that satin is done in eggplant and olive, it is toned down just enough to hit the spot. Adopted by French parents at a young age, Ackermann travelled the world as a child. So the rich and vibrant colours come from his worldly experiences in Africa and the Middle East.
In a way, Ackermann's work is refreshing, because it makes no apologies for high fashion. All this makes you wonder if Ackermann spends his days in detached, aristocratic aloofness, which could not be further from the truth. Energetic and clever, for this designer, perfection is boring and imperfection is worth exploring. Just after his first ever men's runway show, for S/S'16, I sat down with the designer to talk about his luxurious, colourful world.
I would like to be exact and sharp in my appearance. But i am not one of those men
People usually talk about fashion as change, but often things that last are more beautiful, would you agree?
Yes, and it is also the same when everybody talks about luxury. Luxury is not something you should throw away every season, or that you change every season... There is a kind of an intimacy and longevity in it.
You have developed luxury that is specific to you, in a way that is very relaxed, nonchalant. How do you find that balance?
It is very strange because, especially in the men's collections, there's too much noise. When men are being admired, when all those men are immaculate and perfectly dressed, it makes me want to be one of them. I would like to be properly dressed and I would like to be exact and sharp in my appearance. But I am not one of those men. When I dress, I want to put the garment on and everything is here with me. It's basically a part of who I am. I'm not an anxious person. I have to feel at ease to feel comfortable.
You once said something about "unapologetic luxury." I feel that with everything that is going on in the world, people do have to apologise for luxury. There's a space for serious things, but that doesn't automatically negate space for other things.
There is a space for beauty, and there is a space for searching for beauty. When you see the violence that is going on in the world, especially nowadays when you see what is happening in Tunisia and elsewhere, I think there is also a big urge for certain beauty. It puts our lives in balance. Because otherwise, where would we be? It's a gift nowadays, to escape with beauty.
Some people may be surprised that you are attracted to artists whose work is dark and deep.
It's just a sensibility. I've always been attracted or attached by uncommon beauty. When there is a failure, a crack in beauty, it becomes more intriguing. It is disturbing, but it also makes you question life, or question yourself.
Do you try to put any of that in your work?
I think nowadays my life is much more comfortable. In the beginning I was more tormented and more twisted than I am now. I think I have found a certain peace of mind, which makes things a little bit easier.
Meaning, you're not putting combat boots or black leather jackets on the runway?
Right. Because, for example, when you see Francis Bacon, even though the subject matter is tormented, there is also an absolute elegance of colours, there's an elegance of lines. It's done with so much sensibility. So I don't think violence needs to be as literal as combat boots and rmy jackets. Violence can also be done with some elegance.
Colours play a very important part in your work, don't they?
You know when I started designing, there was almost no colour at all. I always wanted to be a very discreet person. I was always searching for that person at a party who would be standing in the corner. Not a person attracting light. But I have a background that is very rich of colour, that was rich of gold. All those countries I have been to. So, I wanted to translate it. But I also wanted the colours to be very deep, profound. When it's red, it has to be blood red. When it's blue, it has to be the midnight blue.
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Is there a difference in your approach in designing for men and women?
There's a certain easiness to designing for men; it's less calculated, which gives me more freedom. Perhaps with the woman I'm thinking it through more, because she is more of a stranger to me. Even if she is close to me, the men's comes more naturally. I'm very close to him.
Is the man you? Is it someone you love? A combination?
It is someone I would like to be. When I see all those boys with tattoos [many of Ackermann's male models are heavily tattooed], I find it absolutely romantic. That kind of romance doesn't exist anymore because we don't write each other letters. I wish I had the courage to have the names of my lovers memorised in words. Every boy told me every story about his tattoos. It was really like reading someone's diary.
You once said "I'm afraid that the women I imagine will fall into bourgeois taste."
The bourgeoisie. Strangely enough, I've always been attracted to bourgeoisie, to its trashy side. There's a rebel in the bourgeoisie that I really like.
I wish I had the courage to have the names of my lovers memorised in words
But isn't there a certain complacency to the bourgeoisie?
Yes, but at the same time everything is cool. What the world presents is something cool. It's as much thought through as the woman whose purse matches her belt and her shoes. I have no difficulty in being attracted to a haute bourgeois lady, as much as a trashy prostitute. Both of them would talk to me. And both of them I would try to include in one silhouette. In every part of the bourgeoisie there must be a twisted side. Otherwise one cannot be that bourgeois.
It seems like every designer now is making Instagram-friendly clothes, very graphic, with big slogans. You are in no rush to do that.
I don't use Instagram, so I don't know that language yet. I put my creative energy elsewhere. But, I have nothing against it. For instance, I have this sweatshirt, which has the word "Dream" on it. And every time I feel moody, I like to put that sweatshirt on because that word just lifts me up a little bit. Strange, isn't it?