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In June, a hundred people were invited to Ackermann’s rapprochement with menswear. It was a late addition to the Paris calendar that brought out every major editor and retailer. What they arrived at was not a baroque runway show of Pitti-esque proportions but a nearly silent presentation. In a raw space in the Marais, sixteen models, tattooed up to the neck and down to the knuckle, sipped champagne and chatted among themselves. They wore silk jacquard waistcoats and iridescent bomber jackets, long scarves and shimmering overcoats, all in saturated jewel tones: garnet and aubergine, lilac and midnight blue. If they posed, it was mostly incidentally. They were more like guests of honor at a cocktail party the underdressed rest of us had crashed. Ackermann was delighted. He’d won over the harder audience. For a designer whose native mode is self-doubt—Ackermann is famously sensitive—menswear seemed to provide a way to release the pressure valve. “I said something to my press agent which she had never heard from me before,” he said. “She said, ‘How do you feel?’ I said, ‘Actually, I’m good. I loved the reaction from the boys, because they loved it. If the press doesn’t like it....’ ”
The press, for the record, did. Several key editors raced back to place personal orders, Ackermann reported, by way of sales prognostication, and retailers followed. (Barneys has picked up the collection again for spring, Kalenderian confirmed.) And now the collection will continue without interruption. The ongoing menswear line will be part of Ackermann’s new, independent company. Less than a month before the show, the Belgian angel investor Anne Chapelle, who, under the aegis of her company BVBA 32, had supported Ackermann for years, announced that in order to facilitate further growth, the label was splitting off into its own separate entity. (Ann Demeulemeester, whose label was also under the BVBA 32 umbrella, became an independent firm at the same time. Chapelle continues to hold a controlling interest in both brands.)
The possibilities for growth are many. To the continued, dogging questions of taking over a luxury house, Ackermann will now say only that the fit must be right. “You don’t have a sensitivity that can filter everything,” he shrugged—the implication being that his filter might be of finer stuff than the feed. In any case, while he once flirted openly with the idea of taking over a house with a vocabulary distinct from his own, the feeling now seems to be that it’s Haider’s way or the highway.
He maintains an auteur’s single-minded dedication to his own idiom. “I don’t have this talent that Nicolas [Ghesquière] or Ms. Miuccia Prada has to renew every season,” he said. “I wish I had it, perhaps.” The “ultimate dream,” he went on, would be to have a haute couture line. But in the meantime, maybe a film, maybe a ballet. “I almost worked on a film with Jim Jarmusch,” he tosses out with a casualness that seems genuine, not practiced. “We met, and he knew so much what he wanted that it was almost useless for me to collaborate.” The highway.
It's not that Ackermann’s focus is rigidly self-reflective or that he designs only for himself. It would be a poor business strategy for a luxury fashion line to do so. But his work comes from somewhere not far beneath his thin skin. A recent trip to his native Colombia, as an invited guest of the Colombiamoda trade fair, seems to have piqued his interest in memoir even more. (It evidently confirmed his Latin roots as well. “It was really nice to see him there amidst his people, on his land,” said Ahluwalia, who was among the delegation that visited Medellín with Ackermann. “We would go out dancing every night, and he’s a great dancer. Look—you think those are French moves? It’s so obvious. You think that’s his French side? That’s Colombia written all over it.”)
“His work is always profoundly personal and explicitly grown out of his experiences,” added Swinton. “Maybe his recent discovery of Colombia has liberated him to put out there all his interests, well-rounded and transparently free of limitation.”
It’s not autobiography, exactly. If it were, Ackermann would be as extensively illustrated as the tattooed models he loves. “It is a challenge I would’ve loved to do,” he said wistfully. “It was Tim Blanks who put it quite right—perhaps I want to be one of them.” Many of his designs, he said, he couldn’t, or wouldn't, personally wear.
But the personal is the professional, and the professional the personal. And as his own story wends its way on, so does his collection, in all its ups and downs. Lunch was over, and Ackermann was headed from the Louvre back to his studio in the Marais, alone. I offered to accompany him, and he politely but firmly demurred. No one was allowed to observe him in the studio. It was too personal. Instead, he offered this crumb. A few seasons ago, he said, he gathered his studio staff and told them the story he wanted to tell for the season.
“‘So you have to imagine it’s five o’clock in the morning, you just stayed in this beautiful hotel with the person you love,’” it began.
“‘But suddenly you need to go. And you walk in the mist. You know that you’re losing the person you love, but you know that you have to do it, because otherwise you’re losing yourself. So you have to go to the mist and see it. Stand straight and face it and deal with it, that you have to go....’ I explain the whole thing. Four of them started crying. Because they knew. I didn’t tell them that I had just separated, but they knew it wasn’t the woman who just left the hotel, it was me leaving the hotel at five o’clock in the morning. And I found myself in the mist, in Paris, not looking back, thinking, I let this person go. I don’t want to, but I have to, because otherwise I lose myself. They gasp. And afterwards, they’re like, ‘Do you want a tea?’ They would never [before] touch me, but they hug me. Then I say, ‘I’m fine. Let’s work now.’”