Haider Ackermann likes to lose himself in foreign cities at night.
“[Italian film director Pier Paolo] Pasolini once said something really beautiful,” he recalls. “He said that he didn’t want to make movies any more because in his head he had already made the most beautiful movies. This is how I feel when I wander the streets. I feel I’ve already imagined the most beautiful défilé [fashion shows] during these late night walks. There’s a beauty and mystery to it.”
The Colombian designer and I are sitting in a cosy corner of Café Grey at the Upper House hotel, looking over a misty Hong Kong skyline. He was flown into town for Joyce’s Golden Needle exhibition and boutique revamp event.
The much-respected designer has run his own label in Paris since 2001. This year he was appointed the new creative director of Berluti in what is considered a power move in the industry.
With his dark, brooding good looks, he’s often dressed in effortless layers. Today, it’s a distressed dark army green jacket, nonchalantly worn over a light black sweater and checked top. It’s not hard to imagine him ambling aimlessly among the shadows of a big city.
So much of fashion today is openly referential to industry trends that it has become increasingly difficult to find an aesthetic that is independent and compelling. Ackermann has achieved this with sharp tailoring, beautiful drapes and androgynous styles, held together by strong sensuality.
Upon closer inspection, his work has always reflected a life of travelling. During his youth, Ackermann spent time in Chad, Algeria, Ethiopia, Nigeria, France and the Netherlands before he studied fashion at Antwerp’s Royal College of Fine Arts.
His latest spring-summer 2017 line seems to signal a new chapter. A colourful levity has come into play, pushing out his usual sombre outfits that have been a staple since the beginning. For women, cropped leather jackets and cut out suiting, a flurry of gorgeous pleats and a vibrant palette including canary yellow, pinks and jewel toned metallics. The menswear played with similar hues and a slick rockabilly look, with youthful prints and audacious stripes.
Although he reads the paper each day and its often sad headlines – his father works for Amnesty International – he is seeing a way to bring positivity into the world with his work.
“I think the world is quite heavy enough at the moment now, it’s nice to offer a bit of lightness,” Ackermann says. “What I’m very inspired by lately are these young kids. They have this kind of energy and they are these world travellers that just go around full of light, life and colour. I try to embrace that kind of electricity in my collections – I did it for the men’s show and then I tried it more subtly for the women.”
Perhaps, he muses, he is feeling “a great sense of liberty in this new adventure” – alluding to the big role at Berluti that we’re supposed to be avoiding talking about. “Perhaps, my new job has given me a kind of lightness too.”
To his credit, Ackermann has always dressed the most compelling of women – cerebral, hard-to-forget types in the celebrity realm – the likes of Tilda Swinton and Kristen Scott Thomas (both are long-time fans and were at his latest Paris show).
“There’s always something mysterious about them, there’s always this distance,” he muses. “Perhaps I’m attracted to this kind of woman who spends a lot of time in the shadows, only sometimes appearing shining in the light. Then she disappears again.”
And in a world of reality TV, scripted shows, celebrity and social media oversharing, Ackermann is clinging on to the idea of mystery, elusiveness and the attraction they can bring, which is even more interesting “in a world where even reality is not real anymore”.
The launch of his men’s collection in 2010 came almost as an accident after being invited to the world’s most famous men’s fashion trade show, Pitti Uomo. The event got him thinking about “the guy behind the Ackermann woman”. But now, he concedes that menswear comes more easily, because he doesn’t have to question as many things.
“Womenswear is more complicated,” he says.
“I design for the man that I would like to be,” he says. “There’s always this fantasy for the men’s side. The first collection had all these guys with tattoos, and perhaps I would have liked to be one of them – to have all those memories on my body, there’s something quite poetic about it. Romantic, too.”