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Antwerp fashion house Ann Demeulemeester leaves for Italy

Demeulemeester (far right) at her last show in Paris, in 2013. © Patrick Kovarik Belga

The Antwerp fashion house founded by Ann Demeulemeester, one of Belgium’s leading fashion designers and a member of the celebrated Antwerp Six, has let go its staff and now plans to decamp to Italy, the company said.

Demeulemeester herself has not been at the head of the company since 2013, when her place was taken by Sébastien Meunier, previously the designer of her menswear collection.

The designer, once mentioned in the same breath as Dries Van Noten and Walter Van Beirendonck, now works in ceramics. She still lives in Antwerp, in a house designed by Le Corbusier, with her photographer husband and their son.

The label is now in the hands of Italian retailer Claudio Antonioli, and thus ends the story of Belgium’s top independent fashion houses. When the takeover was announced last September, the lot of the 50 or so employees in Antwerp was still uncertain.

“I have no report of job losses for the time being,” business manager Anne Chapelle told De Tijd at the time.

But in the long run, Claudio Antonioli will have to decide what happens to the people in production. I think his intentions are good, but how he will execute it is up to him from now on.”

In the event, the chips could not have fallen less well for the Antwerp staff. Of the 48 people employed, 42 were made redundant immediately. Now, with other departures, only two are still in place. According to a union representative, 11 are in re-training. The rest are looking for work in what is left of the city’s industry.

At one time in the 1980s, Antwerp had been transformed into an international city of fashion, and recognised as such far outside Belgium’s borders.

The reason was the sudden explosion of invention and brilliance of students of the fashion division of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, who came to be known as the Antwerp Six. They were: Walter Van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs and Marina Yee.

Martin Margiela was later ‘admitted’ as an honorary member.

Unions also said the social plan for the redundancies had progressed ‘extraordinarily well’. Collective redundancies in Belgium require a negotiated exit plan.

All dismissed employees will be paid, including seniority bonus and training opportunities. Yet many are still gnawed when they see that the designs they have worked on for years are now moving to Italy. The question remains how it could have come to this.”