Familiar emotion in a new material

August 2020

Five years ago, Ann Demeulemeester left her fashion house. After 30 years of tireless creating at the fast pace that characterizes fashion, she decided it was time for a different kind of life. In all silence, she started looking for a new way to shape her creativity. Silk and other noble fabrics left the stage and made room for porcelain, brought in a harmonious combination of light and shadow for Belgium company, Serax.

Ann Demeulemeester never saw fashion as her true calling. Fashion was a way to express her creativity and emotion, bringing her collections to a higher dimension. To that extent, her collection of tableware and lighting for Serax is not a new start, but merely a narrative that continues in a new material.

“Back when I chose to start at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, the ‘Fashion Academy’, I found fashion to be a modern and strong means of communication. I have never designed clothes just for the sake of it; I always wanted to add something that was missing. Visual language has always been important to me. By working primarily in black and white tones, I could always put emphasis on the essence: a shape that was conceived thanks to a combination of light and shadow, as well as fabrics with complex textures. I have always created according to my gut feeling.

“After I left the world of fashion, I did not really plan on releasing any other creations. I just wanted to create nice objects for myself. For me, the primary goal was to create happiness (…) Porcelain has fascinated me for a long time. It is a material with a rich history and a spectacular translucidity. I have been studying it for years, trying to master all the techniques. I have followed masterclasses in England where I learned the classic bone china techniques, I went to Germany and France to understand the entire production process of porcelain and I learned from the best ceramists. Even when I create just for myself, I aspire to reach absolute perfection.”

 For the first five years Demeulemeester worked on her tableware collection in silence. That silence can be taken quite literally. Ann’s atelier is situated on the lower floor of her elegant country home, surrounded by a 50-acre park with centuries-old trees, which she shares with her husband Patrick Robyn. In her kitchen, formerly a stately reception room, floor-to-ceiling cupboards store the tableware collection that she has been working on for Serax along with countless plaster moulds of the designs. Ann has meticulously technical descriptions of each prototype, to be able to give the right instructions to the craftsmen in the Chinese workshop who produce her creations.

Serax started in 1986 as a small-scale flowerpot business and has grown into a multinational with a head office in Antwerp. Since 1990, Serax has entered into dozens of partnerships with upcoming and renowned designers, creating ceramics, porcelain, and furniture.

Ann Demeulemeester x Serax is now a brand within the Serax group, with a strong identity that is the product of the creativity and craftsmanship of not only Ann Demeulemeester, but also of that of her husband Patrick and their son Victor, who designed the packaging and the catalogues. The partnership begun is 2019 and has extended into lighting, cutlery and a wide collection of lead-free crystal glasses, in either a transparent or a light green version.

“Patrick and I are both creators: everything we needed for our house, we designed and created ourselves, in our own creative language. Patrick designs the furniture. As an art director, he has always been closely involved in my fashion collections and he also designed the flagship store in Antwerp.”

One of the windowsills is scattered with bits of porcelain, in various shades of white and black, her iconic colours.

“There is not just one black, there are so many shades of this colour. It has to do with the material as such, with the glazing you apply and with the way in which light is reflected. I particularly like working with black porcelain. It can have so many different hues; no two objects are exactly the same. I have also searched for a long time to find the warm, subtle white that I wanted. It all comes down to playing with light and shadow; that is why I started this collection in the first place.

“In the beginning, there was a shape. I experimented a long time to find the ideal plate and the perfect cup. It is an exercise which humbles you and teaches you how to be patient and never give up. The real challenge lies in creating a simple utensil in a shape, which did not exist before, yet with such perfect proportions, that it looks as if it had always existed. The next step is to create new objects. Will I ever make pure objects of art? Perhaps, but I do not want to pressure myself. At this stage, it felt that making utensils, useful objects, was the right thing to do. I will not be happy unless the final result is exactly the one I had imagined. I want that my soul is present in the objects I make; I want to translate my emotions into something tangible. This has always been my obsession.

“The big difference between designing fashion and doing what I do now is the fact that I now have the time I need. As a fashion designer, there are so many things you need to organize in just one season, that you have no other way but to delegate tasks and manage from a distance. With what I do now, I create things from A to Z. There is no need for me to have to explain things to other people. I can discover objects, materials, and techniques. My creative language is still the same. In fact, I only have this one language in which I can express myself. It’s only the material which is different.”

by Lut Clincke

Kessel-Nijlen, close to Anvers, Belgium, the 13th of August 2019. Ann Demeulemeester's next adventure: after leaving fashion she took time off and now is starting a new career in homewares, beginning with china and lighting. Ann's workshop is on the basement of her house, an old bred hoven. On this picture, she sands done a porcelain plate.
Kessel-Nijlen, close to Anvers, Belgium, the 13th of August 2019. Ann Demeulemeester's next adventure: after leaving fashion she took time off and now is starting a new career in homewares, beginning with china and lighting. On this picture, glasses from her new collection.
Porcelain plate collection. Photo: Marc Wouter
Porcelain plate collection. Photo: Marc Wouter
Porcelain plate collection. Photo: Marc Wouter
Porcelain plate collection. Photo: Marc Wouter
Lighting, Ann Demeulemeester
Ann Demeulemeester, ©Victor Robyn, showroom
This article appeared in DAM76. Order your personal copy.