August 31 2014

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Haider Ackermann Preps Menswear, Womenswear, And Above All, Atmosphere, For Tonight’s Pitti Debut


As Pitti Immagine CEO Raffaello Napoleone puts it, the fair organizers “listen to the different sounds of the contemporary” to select their guest designers. And over the years, Pitti has cultivated an eclectic playlist, as it were: from Gianni Versace (1997), who staged a fashion ballet for the penultimate show before his death, to Thom Browne (2009), who recruited a cadre of model-typists for a presentation part fashion and part performance art. This evening, Haider Ackermann chimes in. Ackermann was invited to present his Spring ’11 pre-collection as part of Pitti W, the womenswear analogue to the larger Pitti Uomo event that runs simultaneously, and he’s elected to use the Pitti platform to debut his first-ever men’s silhouettes alongside the women’s looks. “It’s not a menswear launch,” Ackermann insists. “I simply felt that I had an opportunity to create a moment here, and try something new.” Napoleone approves, gender divides be damned. “Haider Ackermann has already emerged as one of the fashion world’s most important talents,” he says. “We wanted to offer him a chance and a stage to freely express his entire creative process.” Ackermann called in to to discuss his Pitti debut, and sent along a few behind-the-scenes snaps of his process in putting on tonight’s installation-cum-fashion show.

Raf Simons has long been a fan of yours, and a mentor. Is it coincidental that you’re showing at Pitti the same season he is, with Jil Sander?
It is coincidental, but it’s a nice coincidence. And of course, we’ve discussed this. The people at Pitti have been following me for several years—they are really the kindest, loveliest people—and when they asked, at last, how could I say no? I mean, how wonderful to be in Florence, in this environment of Renaissance beauty, you know? And also, they’ve given me the wonderful challenge to create an atmosphere, a total extension of the world I show a little of in Paris.

What’s the plan for tonight?
We are inviting people to the Palazzo Corsini. I’m creating a mise-en-scène—the Palazzo has this amazing atmosphere of lost, abandoned beauty, with all these frescos on the walls of the salons that were damaged when the Arno flooded. There’s a kind of decadence to that that I love. I’m leaving the salons very empty, maybe a chair here or there; a very lonely feeling. And I’m installing a collage of my inspirations, sort of like a travel book. The thing about a place like the Palazzo Corsini is that you walk through the rooms and you can’t help but imagine the history—who lived here? What happened here? Who could live in this place now? You start fantasizing, you can’t help it. And I was imagining, as I always do, this nomadic person who has been traveling all over the world, carrying all her treasures with her. So this is like, she’s returned to Florence for a while, to crash in one of her empty palazzi. And we come to visit.

Not to be crass, but what about, you know, clothes?
Oh, yes. Well, eventually everyone will arrive in the courtyard outside, my friend Jamie Bochert will be playing piano and singing and we will have the show. I’m hanging all these chandeliers in the courtyard, so it feels intimate. I really hope it doesn’t rain. Really hope.

What made you decide to show men’s looks?
Well, as I said, there’s a way that coming to Italy and touring through these palaces taps you into something, like hidden memories. I felt like I was on the trail of these mysterious, decadent men who’d inspired me—Pasolini, Mastroianni. Also, for a long time now, I’ve had it in the back of my head as I design the women’s, this question: Who is the man behind her?

But this isn’t a menswear launch…
No, no. It’s an exercise. I had carte blanche from Pitti to do whatever I like, so I decided to design men’s. It’s really about creating this world, as I said—a world that is more elaborated and complete than what I show in Paris. You enter that world for a moment. In fact, for me, it’s not really so much that I’m creating a world, but I’m creating that moment. A moment people come from all over to share, and then it disappears. This is what’s special for me.

OK, point taken. Are there any other categories, aside from clothes, that you would like to develop as part of your brand?
I’d love to do jewelry. When I was young and I lived in all these Arabic countries, I had the experience—I always heard the jewelry, jangling under the chador, but I could never see it. I had to imagine what I was hearing. And since then, it’s been a fantasy of mine to create jewelry. Also, you know, there’s something wonderful when you see a woman wearing old jewelry. There’s always a story behind it. A preciousness, an intimacy.

Do you spend much time thinking about the women who might actually wear your clothes? I ask, in part, because you seem to have a symbiotic relationship with Tilda Swinton; I’d always assumed she was something a muse.
Well, first of all she approached me about the clothes, and then over the years we’ve become quite intimate friends. I love designing for her. With Tilda, I know the person who will be wearing the garment, I know its purpose, and it can be quite exciting to create that way. She certainly inspires me—she’s like, the totally modern woman, no?—but I’m not sure I would call her a muse. I think she likes my designs for the same reason that we’ve become such good friends, which is that we connect in the way we see the world. It’s like, with Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy, I’m not sure that Givenchy designed his collections with Audrey in mind, but she expressed his clothes perfectly. Or Catherine Deneuve and Yves Saint Laurent. I feel blessed to have found a person who does that for me, besides all the laughs we share. Not that I mind to see Tilda in Lanvin on the red carpet, you know.

I’ll ask you the same question I asked Raf: Did the knowledge that you would be showing at Pitti affect the design of this collection at all?
Hmm. By extension, yes, because it was interesting to think about the man. Imagining what the man beside the woman might wear made me reconsider the woman. Designing men’s, it’s more about attitude and gesture, less about beauty; more about style and less about fashion, yes? And thinking about this makes you reconsider what fashion is all about. I’m still figuring out how all that is affecting me. How do you capture a gesture? What is the woman’s gesture? And what does it mean?

Photos: Erik Madigan Heck