Arthur Rimbaud Ann Demeulemeester

The French poet Arthur Rimbaud in Africa

From Casanova and Lord Byron to F.Scott Fitzgerald and Allen Ginsberg, famous literary figures of times gone by have always made for striking menswear muses. And Ann Demeulemeester, with her preference for dark, moody palettes and heavy, directional and at times positively gothic layering is particularly good at the ‘tortured artist’ look.
And then for her Spring/Summer 12 collection the Belgian designer sent out clothes that were decidedly lighter in tone, still dark and heavy, but more weathered, with splashes of detail that hinted at something more exotic. If not quite a total departure from usual, the pieces did at least hint at a broader influence that usual for the Antwerp graduate. Demeulemeester was coy about her inspiration for the collection but did eventually reveal it was the self-imposed exile in Africa of the 19th century poet Arthur Rimbaud. And so this season menswear has a new style icon – that of poet turned nomad.

Ann Demeulemeester Spring/Summer 12

Rimbaud was a precociously talented French writer born in 1854. A reckless libertine during his youth, he wrote some of his most famous work, which included Ophélie, L’orgie Parisienne and Un Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell – one of the first examples of symbolist writing), whilst still a teenager. After a torrid friendship and romance with the poet Paul Verlaine (who tried to kill him), he turned his back on France at the height of his fame, when he was just 25, and travelled extensively around three continents (very rare in that era), spending significant time in East Africa. He returned to France only to die, from cancer at the tragically young age of 37.

Arthur Rimbaud in Africa

It’s the period when Rimbaud, reeling from a bad love affair and suffering from the pressure of being considered a literary pioneer decided to leave everything behind to find himself in Africa, travelling around mainly by foot, that Demeulemeester zeroes in on with the layered and textured separates in this collection.

The look boils down to classic European pieces that you might expect to see on a smart man about town – smart black dinner jackets, waistcoats, shirts mixed up with more unusual pieces that could have picked up on his African travels – shorter, more colourful trousers, patterned tops with fringing details, interesting scarves. All tied together by the sense of someone on a journey, with the trousers worn rolled up as if to combat heat, pieces layered on top of each other but with shirts wide open and smart garments accessorised with tough, desert friendly footwear and unusual head-gear.

Ann Demeulemeester Spring/Summer 12

The modernity that Demeulemeester’s eye for design gives to these ideas gives them a wearability not usually associated with either luxury clothing or an eighteenth century aesthetic. Just don’t go wearing them to go roam the desert – there won’t be nearly enough people there to appreciate just how great they look!

by Hollie Moat

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