The invitation to Ann Demeulemeester's new show was a white handkerchief, the backdrop of the stage a scrim of pure white fabric. Fall may call for heavier fabrics and weight, but the collection Demeulemeester presented today was all aflutter. "I didn't want it to be too heavy," she said backstage after the show. "It had to do with making something really serene and spiritual, but also powerful." She had a phrase for it: punk priest.
There was certainly a vestment quality in the constructed waistcoats that trailed trains of shirttail, the long robe coats, and billowing sleeves, some with double cuffs at the end. ("I love cuffs," Demeulemeester shrugged by way of explanation. "I think it gives something beautiful to the hand.") She cautioned that spirituality was linked to no religion or faith. It's more the Church of Ann that her men are the acolytes of. Over the years, she's honed her design signatures into a creed, which may explain why this collection, long on loveliness, felt a bit short on spark. Serenity doesn't carry the shock of the new, and "punk," despite its rip-it-up, start-again connotations, can mean merely independent. That's how Demeulemeester chose to define it. "Free in spirit," she said, "but with a future." Certain recurring details, like the curved, constructed sleeve whose technique was borrowed from couture, and beautiful embroidery throughout, were reminiscent of a confessional window, and pointed toward her own.
It all left you feeling that, yes, a peaceful punk is a powerful one. Demeulemeester is often associated with darkness and shade, but the designer insisted she's a bearer of light. "I'm a very positive person," she said. "I see the side I want to see." She's good at making you see her side, too. The voice on her soundtrack, which had sounded angelically sweet, turned out to be Nick Cave, who lent "O Children" and a new song, yet to be released, for the show. Demeulemeester's vision turns even Bad Seeds good.