‘‘I don’t know what his purpose was, but I think it was to say, ‘Guys, perhaps you should have a look at this dude,”?Haider Ackermann says. “It was a way to put me out there. At least that’s how I like to see it.”
He’s talking about the moment he went from being a cult favorite of Tilda Swinton and a host of fashion and art world insiders to an outright media sensation. It was the fall of 2010 and the pertinent events unfolded like this: In an interview with Numéro magazine, Karl Lagerfeld named Haider Ackermann as the guy he’d like to succeed him at Chanel. Days of retweets and months of “Who is Haider Ackermann?” blog coverage ensued, followed by a pivotal bombshell runway show in March 2011 that literally moved editors to tears. Then came an American Vogue cover, a big story in Newsweek and a slew of gushing magazine articles in which journalists wrote about him with highly poetic language. They called him The New Romantic. His role as the fashion world’s new crown prince was sealed. It’s a high that Ackermann is still floating on.
“Certain things happen and you realize just how much power a single person can have. To have people you’ve admired your whole life notice you,” he says, trailing off. There is a smile in his voice, which is a surprise because at first glance, Ackermann appears to be a very serious, brooding, enigmatic man.
His clothes reveal a similar mysteriousness and intelligence. This isn’t fashion for the Kardashians of the world. He’s more revered by the most ardent, hard-core fashion lovers. “I’m not so much attracted to the woman who wants to be the center of attention. She’s not my kind of person. It’s violent how people put themselves out there on reality TV, leaving nothing to imagine or question,” he says.
His silk skirts, dresses and jackets wrap around the body like sinuous bands of smoke (there’s that poetic language again) and his flair for rich, jewel and desert tones conjures up images of moody vistas in places like Morocco, Ethiopia or India. Ackermann calls it “drawing up his past.”
Born in Columbia, he was raised by French parents in various parts of Africa and Europe. “The first thing I was drawn to as a kid in Africa was the idea of one piece of fabric that women would wrap around themselves. The fabric was always blowing in the wind and you’d see these women running through the medina like ghosts. It touched me. And ever since, a wardrobe has only ever been interesting to me when it’s moving,” he says. Lately, though, he’s been looking back much less. “You can only draw what you are made of. But now that so many things are happening, I’m looking much more toward my future in my work,” he admits, alluding to the near constant state of buzzing excitement around him.
He gets particularly animated when remembering a meeting he had with his hero, Martin Margiela, one of the fashion world’s most recondite and revered talents. “He wanted to meet me,” Ackermann says incredulously. “I used to have all these doubts and insecurities in my head. But if this man could take me seriously, I had to face it and take myself seriously.”
Ackermann is quick to dismiss any notion that he might be an overnight hit, though. “I’ve never been attracted to the person of the moment. The idea of being a passing moment always kind of scared me. I showed my first collection in 2003 and could not have gotten to this place without all of the building I did before.”
Background: After graduating from high school in the Netherlands, Ackermann studied at Antwerp’s prestigious The Academy of Fine Arts.
The line: Ackermann launched his eponymous line after leaving fashion school and completing an internship for John Galliano.
The look: Mannish tailoring meets seductive, body-skimming silhouettes.
The women: Tilda Swinton is Ackermann’s most loyal fan. But his legions of famous followers also include Penelope Cruz and Janet Jackson.