In fashion, succession can happen with more or less fanfare, depending on any combination of factors. At the end of the Ann Demeulemeester show today, Sébastien Meunier emerged to take credit for the collection in the absence of Demeulemeester herself. The French protégé spent four years at the Belgian designer's side until she departed elusively last fall. In simplest terms, this was a Demeulemeester collection: The absence of color, the wistful styling, the visual rhythm of loose and lean—all the genetic markers expressed in her designs over the past thirty years were there. Longtime customers need not fear a sea change, and Meunier deserves recognition for that. Backstage, he addressed the imperative to preserve the poetry of raw and refined, citing Louise Bourgeois and Robert Rauschenberg while pointing to toile artist smocks with lightly frayed edges and canvas lace-ups fronted with painted flowers. Outer layers embroidered with bronzed wheat sheaves conjured up the handcraft of yesteryear, while jackets spliced and stitched in translucent cotton vertical stripes suggested the handcraft of tomorrow. Coats were unlined to allow for more layers. Pants remained lean, their cuffs often rolled.
Pursuant to the artist references, you got the feeling that these clothes were for someone who revels in rumpled nonchalance while abiding by an innate sense of polish. The superposition of unfinished shirts and sartorial jacket construction struck an appealing note. A few rumblings overheard among the exiting crowd lamented the end of an era—or named one or two other sensitive avant-gardists who might fill the void Demeulemeester has left. But for now, Meunier has given no reason to object to this incarnation of Ann Demeulemeester. The real test will be a few seasons on, when the brand must prove it can progress without its heart and soul.