Exhibition

Ann Demeulemeester on feathers, fashion & freedom

Ann Demeulemeester A/W 2009-2010, rooster feather headdress, MoMu collection, Inv. no. T90/223 at the Birds of Paradise expo in MoMu - Fashion Museum Antwerp, Photo: Boy Kortekaas

Ann Demeulemeester A/W 2009-2010, rooster feather headdress, MoMu collection, Inv. no. T90/223 at the Birds of Paradise expo in MoMu – Fashion Museum Antwerp, Photo: Boy Kortekaas

MoMu asked the Antwerp designer Ann Demeulemeester to select a series of silhouettes for the Birds of Paradise expo that highlight her use of feathers in different ways. Feathers, and especially pigeon feathers are part of Ann Demeulemeester’s signature and her world. They stand for freedom, humbleness and poetry.

Ann Demeulemeester S/S 1992. Kirsten Owen modeling a bustier made of dove feathers at the 1st Ann Demeulemeester catwalk show in Paris. Photo: Marleen Daniëls

Ann Demeulemeester S/S 1992. Kirsten Owen modeling a bustier made of dove feathers at the 1st Ann Demeulemeester catwalk show in Paris. Photo: Marleen Daniëls

Have feathers always played an important role in your life and in your work?
Yes, since childhood, I have had a great respect for feathers, particularly dove feathers. For me, a dove feather represents the poetry of the ordinary: a sort of perfection that anyone can randomly find on the street. The first time I saw my husband, Patrick Robyn, he was wearing a black blazer with a small grey dove feather in his breast pocket. I noticed it immediately. For me, that was so very attractive, and it never changed: still today, he always wears a small dove feather. If I had to give this an absolute meaning, I would say that a feather is a symbol of freedom, a free spirit – the greatest luxury in life. For my first fashion show in Paris, for the 1992 spring/sumer collection, I placed on each chair a leather string holding some dove feathers. A small metal plate with my name was attached to it. Some people still have this little chain – and it has been more than twenty years! I still have mine too; it is a sort of talisman.

Ann Demeulemeester A/W 2009-2010. Feather headdresses with dove and cock feathers. PHOTO: BVBA32

Ann Demeulemeester A/W 2009-2010. Feather headdresses with dove and cock feathers. PHOTO: BVBA32

Ann Demeulemeester A/W 2009-2010. Feather headdresses with dove and cock feathers. PHOTO: BVBA32

Ann Demeulemeester A/W 2009-2010. Feather headdresses with dove and cock feathers. PHOTO: BVBA32

Why dove feathers in particular? How do you decide which feathers you want to use for which piece?
I find dove feathers more attractive because they combine fragility, simplicity, and poetry. We humans can make so many beautiful things; however, we cannot compete with the perfection of such a feather. For my collection, I primarily choose rooster, dove, or duck feathers: simple, humble feathers. Sometimes I have them painted. Plumes are an integrated element in the creation of a collection. We do not decide at the end which feather will match the piece. Sometimes, I use a feather to add balance to a piece, because a feather adds tenderness to a harder image. The contrast between hard and soft gives my collections an overall sensibility. A collection never entails a one-sided romantic or hard feel – it must always have a soul; that is where feathers are so meaningful. The choice of a type of feather depends on the effect I want to obtain. Sometimes, I paint a dove and a rooster feather in the same colour; this highlights the differences between the two types of plumes. A dove feather remains matte and somewhat grey with shades of red; the feather only absorbs part of the paint. A rooster feather is gleaming; colours are deeper with more black.

Ann Demeulemeester A/W 2011-2012. Silhouette with painted duck feathers pictured as ammunition in an ammunition holder. PHOTO: BVBA32

Ann Demeulemeester A/W 2011-2012. Silhouette with painted duck feathers pictured as ammunition in an ammunition holder. PHOTO: BVBA32

You have immense respect for birds and feathers. How do you combine this respect with the processing of each piece?
Whether for feathers or for any other animal material such as fur or leather, I only use natural materials when I can do no harm. In other words, I only use skins of animals (goats, sheep, etc.) that are already used for meat consumption. I use the same principle for feathers: they are residues from the poultry farmer; I do not have birds plucked. For feathers, it is the same as for other animal skins: we have reached a very high level with fake fur, mostly visual, but the sense of real fur cannot be recreated with artificial material. In a fur coat you are never too hot or too cold; this material breathes and lives. We cannot perfect nature.