The story of Ann Demeulemeester’s label is one marked by reverence. Her work is distinguished by a juxtaposition of hard and soft, of romance and edge, of tradition and deconstruction. The heartbeat of it all, though, is an outpouring of herself. She started the label in Antwerp in 1985 with her husband, photographer Patrick Robyn, and built it up to a point where she felt it was able to stand on its own by 2013 without her at the helm.
Demeulemeester’s personal convictions and talent were bolstered by formal instruction. In an interview with writer Katherine Betts, she recognized her early “Flemish Christian education” for nurturing her to be “honest, hardworking, quiet, intimate, and discreet.” This was later followed by enrollment in the famed Royal Academy of Art in Antwerp in 1978. The school is known for its rigorous programs that have produced several notable alumni, including the aforementioned Rubins. The school’s coursework instills a precise approach to craft—requiring designers to back up their grand ideas with technical abilities. That was the common thread for Demeulemeester and her group of classmates that would collectively become known as the Antwerp Six following their acclaimed runway presentations in London in 1986. While their styles were drastically different, their combined work garnered attention to emerging fashion talent in Belgium that endures today.