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M: Haider Ackermann in Plain Sight

The designer everyone in womenswear is watching made a dramatic and unexpected return to menswear — in his own time, his own way and his own image.

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Menswear issue M Fall 2013

The reactions to Ackermann's first foray into men’s were good. Though his hosts reacted initially with some trepidation—“We were surprised, and even a bit worried at first, about it overlapping with the men’s guest,” Pitti CEO Raffaello Napoleone said recently—they agreed to the coed presentation, despite having invited Raf Simons to show his menswear collection for Jil Sander, because the project was “really a special, creative experiment.” Ackermann himself saw it this way. The collection was not intended for production or sale. “It was just an exercise for me,” he said, “and a very liberating one, because I felt totally free. We didn’t need to sell. It was such fun.”


But retailers, their appetites duly whetted, wanted it in stores, and so it was ushered into production. In a major show of support, Barneys New York picked it up. “Haider Ackermann uses fabric the way that most people use color,” said Barneys’ Tom Kalenderian. “I think there’s no question that it’s a very personal and unique presentation of men’s.”


Personal is a word that comes up often when Ackermann is concerned. Further than that, journalists writing about his collections tend to stumble and fall back on calling them, simply, “very Haider Ackermann,” which becomes a kind of shorthand for draping, exotica, and rich color. He works closely with a small team and refuses to employ a stylist, working instead with Michèle Montagne, a legend in Paris fashion who collaborated with Helmut Lang during his glory days and shepherded the careers of Rick Owens and Ann Demeulemeester. Technically, Montagne is Ackermann’s press agent. “That’s almost the least she does in my life,” he said. “I could do without her press, but I could not do without her in my collection. Michèle, she knows what I’m going through. She knows that my collection is so built on my emotion, whether I’m sad or I’m in love. All of this translates somehow. When we’re working on the looks, she can take more out of me than I dare to do. A stylist would never come so personally, because he wouldn’t know my life. He’d just come in and change the things.”


Ackermann has long nurtured relationships with muses who become avatars of his vision—most famously, the actress Tilda Swinton, but also the high-fashion models who return, like family, to his runways season after season—but where menswear is concerned, Ackermann’s best representative might be himself. He has an aristocratic bearing and a dab hand with a cashmere wrap. (Over the course of lunch at Café Marly, he readjusted his blanket-size square of fabric several times: now as an oversize ascot, now tucked under the arm like a toga.) “You can see his work, and you can see what he wears, and you can see the ties, you can see the bridge,” said his close friend, the jewelry designer Waris Ahluwalia. “You can see that story being told. You don’t even need to read between the lines.” Ackermann conceded that connection; his friends, he said, point out the Ackermann spirit in his menswear in particular. “They recognize me in it, but I don’t know—I don’t have that much distance yet to be able to analyze that,” he admitted. “Perhaps I don’t even want to. Perhaps I just want to let it go. That’s more the freedom I have with the man—I don’t think that much. With the woman, I am more thinking, rethinking, overthinking.”


But there is an umbilical tie between the collections for men and the collections for women, one not lost on any of the Ackermann faithful. “Truly, it feels like part of the same story,” Swinton said. “The delicacy of color palette, the clarity of line, the fluidity of some silhouettes and the sharpness of others.... Personally, I find it occasionally hard to remember which collection something came from.”

 

As abruptly as Ackermann's menswear appeared, it disappeared again. Despite the sales orders, the season at Pitti was followed by several seasons of silence on the menswear front. “Shops were requesting more, but I'm not a person who responds to ‘You have to do it, you have to do it,’” he said. “Pffffft. When I feel ready, when I feel it’s the moment.”

 

“I think this collection was missed as he exited men’s,” Kalenderian said. “People were asking for what’s next. The anticipation was always there, that it would come back. It was just a question of when. So I think, unfortunately, none of us knew except him, so it was a hard question to answer.”

 

The moment turned out, as Ackermann moments often do, to be a personal one. “I chose some fabrics for the women, and I thought, Oh, that fabric. I would love to have for myself,” he laughed.

 

“So let’s do men’s now.”

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