The Unrivaled Luxury of Haider Ackermann
The Unrivaled Luxury of Haider Ackermann
- Words Skylar Bergl
- Date May 25, 2017
Haider Ackermann is not new. But for anyone whose exposure to high fashion has come primarily from the legacy luxury houses like Louis Vuitton and Gucci or blogged-about streetwear labels like Vetements and Gosha Rubchinskiy, Haider may have slipped through the cracks. But the designer has built an empire of disheveled luxury that mixes the worlds of royally draped fabrics and edgier punk-inspired pieces. Ackermann has remained a largely individualistic tour de force, delivering an aesthetic that feels like a three-part fusion of Ford and Slimane-era Saint Laurent, a shit load of silk and velvet and his own nomadic life experience.
After launching his namesake label in 2001, Ackermann managed and built his own business for more than 15 years before finally taking on a creative director role at a larger house—and just three years after presenting his first full menswear collection. Though his pedigree had connected him with some of the fashion world’s most prestigious positions, in late 2016 he chose Berluti, a historic 120-year-old menswear label that may not be on the radar of those not fully immersed in today’s filled-to-the-brim fashion calendar.
In his own way, his growing empire remains tightly knit and well-thought-out, a rarity in an ever-faster moving industry. And for the day one followers, seeing his success as he reaches the peak of the industry only further emboldens his incredible story.
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Exploring His Roots
There is perhaps no better term to describe Ackermann than “Global Citizen.” The Colombian-born designer was adopted at a very young age by French parents and his life remained in perpetual motion from there. His adopted father was a cartographer and travelled across Africa with his wife and children—Haider’s adopted brother and sister. Growing up, Ackermann and his family spent time in Ethiopia, Chad and Algeria before moving to the Netherlands when Haider was 12.
Growing up in Africa has clearly inspired his later work. He has specifically cited the boubou, a garment worn by men and women in western Africa, as well as the work of Yves Saint Laurent as fueling his work. Following his adolescence in the Netherlands, Ackermann went on to study at the renowned Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp in 1994. Though the often-cited alma mater of Martin Margiela, Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeleuemeester and countless others would seem like a great resume-builder, Ackermann never graduated, leaving the academy after three years. According to Raf Simons, who was present during his tenure, that was because "...he couldn't finish his collections. If he had to do five silhouettes, he would only do three. But they were the best.”
Following his studies, Ackermann landed internships under John Galliano and under his former professor at the Academy, Wim Neels, before working with Bernard Wilhelm and Belgian label Mayerline. 2001 saw him start his namesake womenswear label and in 2003, he designed collections for premium leather brand Ruffo. The 2000s were the beginning of a consistent rise to the top, and as his work garnered more attention from both the press and his contemporaries, the spotlight eventually shifted towards him as a potential successor to some of the industry’s biggest names.
Charting His Rise
By 2009, Haider had established himself as a premier womenswear designer and rumors circulated that he had even turned down a chance to succeed Martin Margiela. In 2010, he was chosen as the special guest womenswear designer at Pitti Uomo, the same year that Raf Simons showed menswear for Jil Sander. The womenswear distinction didn’t keep Ackermann from debuting his own selection of menswear as part of his presentation. But that first foray into menswear was more just spinning the wheel as the designer didn’t offer a full menswear collection until Spring/Summer 2014, some two years later.
2010-11 is as close to a “breakout” year as one could assign to Haider’s long career. As John Galliano was unceremoniously dismissed from his position at Dior in early 2011, Haider’s name was on everyone’s mind as an obvious replacement, spurred on by their previous relationship and possibly building upon Karl Lagerfeld’s praise in late 2010 that he would choose Ackermann as his replacement at Chanel were he to retire. By then, word circulated that he’d turned down at least nine different creative director positions. At that point, all eyes were on Ackermann.
Still, he pressed on as an independent label and eventually launched his aforementioned menswear business with his Spring/Summer 2014 collection. Translating similar styles from his womenswear work onto high-end menswear designs, those in search of a luxury-level product that evokes a sense of untidy cool had a brand to add to their repertoire. For the mainstream, recent exposure to Haider likely came through Kanye West, who has worn his designs for the past handful of years and whose favorite Haider Ackermann sweatshirt inspired a H&M knockoff that was a go-to piece for anyone who couldn’t afford the real thing. With an already established profile and rising popularity, especially among the menswear set, Ackermann finally made the move, joining Berluti as creative director in late 2016, where his debut collection received rollicking praise as he blended the house legacy with his own machinations.
Defining His Look
Ackermann’s womenswear is often described as dark and romantic, for good reason. His earlier work leaned on flowing drapery in deep colors and subtle fabric variations. Often, there is a distinct lack of middle ground between his elegant floor-length dresses and his tightly fitted jackets, but the through line that connects both sides of the spectrum is his considered use of layering and memorable color palettes.
Those days of being subdued have shifted of late, to a more rockstar-inspired rebellion with brash color choices, ultra-slim leather pants and pointed footwear perfectly suited to the sound stage, worn by the likes of The Rolling Stones—of whom one Keith Richards directly inspired the Spring/Summer 2015 range, filled with silks, sharpened silhouettes and a distinct taste of dandyism. Even more recent collections veer into space cowboy territory, like Spring/Summer 2016 which included snakeskin printed slippers, multi-layered cumberbunds and skin-tight pinstriped trousers cropped just below the calves or Fall/Winter 2017 which featured a cavalcade of punk rock tartan
Having the frame to fit into Ackermann’s pieces is just one element of wearing his work. The demanding diet is nothing compared to the confidence and cash flow required to pull them off. Let’s face it, it’s not easy to show up, well, anywhere in a brand new pair of vinyl pants and have others think nothing of it.
It helps to look similar to the uniquely alien Tilda Swinton, or have the ego of Kanye—just in case.