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Haider Ackermann: Fashion’s Next Superstar?

Colombian-born French designer Haider Ackermann may replace John Galliano at Dior, or take over at Givenchy. The publicity-shy 40-year-old’s approach? Pure instinct.

Lady Gaga wears Ackermann
Lady Gaga wears Ackermann

By Joël Morio

PARIS -- During the Paris Fashion Week, which ended on March 9, Haider Ackermann's name was on everyone's lips. He was rumored to be on the shortlist of designers who could replace John Galliano, Dior's erstwhile artistic director (forced out this month over his anti-Semitic insults caught on videotape).

Subsequent rumors have suggested that Italian designer Ricardo Tisci has been picked for the Dior job, and that Ackermann may replace him at his current fashion house Givenchy. Still, Dior says it hasn't yet made a decision.

Ever since Karl Lagerfeld said of Ackermann that he was "the only one who could replace me at Chanel," the 40-year-old has been in the spotlight. His collections are praised by the fashion world, and he just made the cover of US Vogue. "It is very unsettling to be in the limelight when you like being in the shadows," he says. "It's nice to feel desired, it gives you strength but it's also frightening."

Contradictions

The Ackermann style is a mix of flowing cuts and precise tailoring, of order and disorder. These contradictions can be explained by the personal story of this designer with the hobo look of messy hair and piercing, dark eyes behind oval glasses. "My collections are reflections of my own emotions. I was influenced by my past, but now I feel less melancholic, drawn to the future," he says.

Ackermann is French but was born in Santa Fe de Bogota in Colombia. He grew up between Africa and Europe. From his time in Africa, Ackermann has kept a fascination for draping. "Tuareg people in the African desert, Indian women who dress with five to six meters of fabric, Tibetan monks, everywhere in the world, people drape themselves in fabric. Only in the West do we like to make things complicated," he says.

For the coming winter, he wanted to play with contrasting fabrics: the dryness of boiled white wool with the sensuality of leather or silk, the shine of sequins. He drew long kimono-like velvet or silk coats with leather hems. He works delicately on drapes and knots for dresses that show off the shoulders, the lower back or the curve of a hip. He majestically underlines the waist with thick Japanese obi-style leather belts. Although black, grey and white dominate, he adds in touches of emerald green and dark blue.

Flemish rigor

The designer, who lived in Antwerp where he studied at the famous school of fine arts, was influenced by Flemish rigor and encouraged by Belgian designer Raf Simons. "Coming from Africa and arriving in this dark grey light was a real shock. I like the Antwerp style, it respects women, emphasizes discretion, doesn't go for decoration," he says.

Each collection is an extension of the previous one: "I re-work one or two silhouettes and I watch DVDs of previous show to try to understand what worked and what didn't." This season, there was even more pressure after the huge success of his Summer 2011 collection.

Ackermann has dealt calmly with this newfound celebrity. "For the very first time, I enjoyed coming out on the catwalk at the end of my show," he says. He is serene about the future, although he works on "instinct, without planning things." He wants to evolve at his own rhythm. In order to concentrate fully on the women's collection he dropped his men's line after the June 2010 show, despite it being a huge success around the world.

Ackerman remains silent regarding a possible future at Dior or Givenchy, but he's happy to talk about the idea of a partnership with another brand. "The rules of another brand would help me express a new form of elegance, higher than mine, more luxurious, it's a fantasy of mine," he admits. We'll know soon if his dream will come true.

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