Hairstory

- Edition 4 -

The BOOK OF ANN


Belgian fashion designer Ann Demuelemeester created this formidable tome in 2013 as a farewell to the label she founded in 1985. Photographed by her husband and creative partner Patrick Robyn and designed by their son Victor, its 2000 pages capture – nearly wordlessly – “a serene and darkly romantic world with an intriguing mix of edgy rebellion and sophistication,” according to publisher Rizzoli. Musician Patti Smith, a longtime Demuelemeester fan and friend wrote the achingly poetic forward and said in an interview with Vogue.com, “I derive great power from wearing Ann’s clothes. Since I began performing again, I have never gone onstage without wearing a piece by Ann. They make me feel confident, they make me feel truly like myself. They are talismanic.”

Demuelemeester was one of “The Antwerp 6” along with designers Walter van Beirendonck, Dries van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs and Marina Yee who studied together at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts. In 1986, the group rented a truck and set out for London with a radical vision that shook up Fashion Week and woke up a jaded press corps (who couldn’t pronounce their names, hence the moniker) to put Belgium on the fashion map alongside established European capitals.

The book is a rigorous chronology of every Demuelemeester show since, and haircutter Wes Sharpton treasures his copy, a gift from Carol Fertig, client, friend, and curator of online design showcase Object Lesson. “Working at the edges of the style industries myself, I immediately ‘got’ Wes, and thankfully he got me,” she writes. “Every year for Christmas I try to do right by him and gift him a book I hope will inspire his approach to his craft and his discernment of everything he surrounds himself with.” She feels that Wes and Ann share aspects of A.D.’s design perspective – “that of being classic, turned in the mix-master of time, eternal but contemporary, and pushed to the edges just enough without becoming ‘trendy’ or novel.”

Wes dresses himself in a restrained palette of black and white in exaggerated silhouettes. “Personally, I prefer something that is structured and then deconstructed. I like the fact that a lot of Demuelemeester clothing is tone on tone, the same family of color. It really never occurred to me until now, but I like darker tones because they’re all about shape, proportion and hidden details. I like what I consider seductive intrigue – not so obvious, or in your face. Sometimes you know you like something but don’t know exactly why; it’s off, and interesting; it draws you in and that’s what I mean by seductive.”

Michael Gordon used to go backstage and photograph Demuelemeester shows in the 1990s that were memorably bold statements compared to most. He describes the experience as “one of the few shows that gave me chills. It was an honor to have been there.” Wes savors the stories of how Ann orchestrated every single detail and says, “You can see by these pictures that you could examine the clothing and find the stitches as great as the overall pieces.” He makes a short leap from clothing to hairdressing: “So when I coach people cutting, I remind them to zoom in on details, but also to keep zooming out. If you get too zoomed in, typically it’ll be overdone, overworked. You lose focus on the overall picture.”

 

Wes considers himself “a haircutter who infuses editorial elements into the work that I do. The visual file folder in my mind is of that world. You can see in these photos that even when the hair gets extreme, it doesn’t compete, it’s in balance. It’s almost non-hair; it becomes a part of the clothes.” So to look at a haircut in a way Ann Demuelemeester might means examining how each piece affects the others. “It’s a study of proportion, of moving hair around to see what happens when it swings a certain way. I interact with it completely differently; I take an examiner role and do this detailed, obsessive thing. You have to mimic movements that happen in life and make sure that it looks great no matter how it lands.”

Even though Demuelemeester’s work evokes a distant, romantic past, it ultimately creates a reality that is more a consistently personal vision than a reference to any era. “In any body of work you’re going to find specific haircuts that a model had at that moment, Wes explains. “We have this conversation often; if you look at a picture from 20 years ago, can you tell? If you can’t, that means they really nailed it. When you do a cut on someone and you’ve really considered them, and it’s suitable, an asset, and shows them in the best way, it feels like what they always should have been wearing, and it feels timeless.”

Talking about the creative connection between Demuelemeester and Patti Smith leads Wes to the subject of his own collaborators, or muses – the young women whose hair he has been cutting, some for years. “It’s not that they look a particular way, even though they all hint at something pretty yet androgynous; their energy is similar in that they’re open and willing to be a part of creation with you. They don’t have hesitations. We create a character together and they embody it. That’s when magic happens.”

Then comes the challenge of capturing those characters on camera. “It’s a real miracle when you think about it; every single element has to come together – the color has to be right, the styling has to be right, the clothing styling has to be right, the lighting has to be right, the girl has to be comfortable, the photographer has to capture that split second – to make this whole thing function.”

“But,” Wes says with a reverent tone, “I love people who will sign up for something that I believe is bigger than me, bigger than all of the people involved. You get to make this great image that exists in the world, maybe forever.” And even though he is his own worst critic, he calls the work he’s been involved with at Hairstory, “something I’ll be proud of the rest of my life.”