Since she struck out as one of the Antwerp Six in the mid-eighties, Ann Demeulemeester's clothes have not exactly been noted for their pop-tastic cheer. Right from the start, Demeulemeester made punkish understatement her trend-proof calling card—in so doing, she earned the undying loyalty of fans such as Patti Smith, who was also her muse. Like Smith, Demeulemeester was interested in depth, not froth, and understood that melancholy could be a kind of ecstatic experience if you engaged it from the right angle. When the designer showed her first collection in Paris, in 1992, The Washington Post admired her aesthetic's "sultry bleakness," an apt phrase that has continued to apply over the years. She did not veer.
Last fall, Demeulemeester announced—without explanation, really, and via handwritten letter—that she was leaving her label. The show this afternoon was the first one made in her absence. For the moment, at least, it appears that the team designing under Demeulemeester's name is determined to double-down on her reputation for moodiness, jettisoning last season's patterns and prints in favor of more "signature" pieces. The women's clothes shown here were mainly of brackish dark colors, deconstructed, twisted, folded, and wrapped. Any hint of the upbeat came from a handful of men's looks that featured bolts of flashy bronze, and from a final passage of languid women's ensembles in white and palest pink. The latter were really lovely—a show highlight, for sure, alongside a few intriguing double-breasted silk dresses. The Demeulemeester woman should also be satisfied with this collection's brooding but rather sexy gowns, and with the low-slung, voluminous trousers. The Demeulemeester man, meanwhile, may be tempted by a gothic coat of Persian lamb, but will probably wind up with a blazer in a tonal flock, as well he should. Also, the bronze trousers and jean jacket looked good today: They had pep. You did sort of wonder whether Demeulemeester herself would approve.