At Paris Fashion Week, New Blood Means New Buzz for Storied Heritage Houses


Razor-sharp silhouettes. Shivers of silk. Models’ hands crossed over the chest, obscuring bare breasts. The leitmotif quill beloved by the house’s founder, fashioned anew as leather bandeaus in black and ivory. 

Ludovic de Saint Sernin‘s first collection as creative director of Ann Demeulemeester — shown during Paris Fashion Week — is an exquisite and masterfully conceived debut that sees him take ownership of the brand’s legacy with abandon. 

“I wanted to create a feeling,” he said backstage after the show on Saturday. “It was about telling your story, putting your entire heart in to it and giving it this emotion. I wanted you to feel something strong, something unique and something that’s kind of like magic.”

Ann Demeulemeester
ludovic de saint sernin ann Demeulemeester F23 038

While the collection is, as he put it, “a love letter to Ann,” his objective is “to carry on that legacy and put myself into it.” But when you review the Ann Demeulemeester archive, there are more surprising parallels between the two creatives. 

In 2007, Demeulemeester drew inspiration from Virginia Woolf’s gender switching satire “Orlando,” which has been fundamental to de Saint Sernin’s own oeuvre. Meanwhile, the Swarovski-logoed tanks and lace-up leather pants that are signatures of his own namesake brand recall her Spring 1998 and Fall 2011 collections. On a purely technical level, both designers favor bias cuts. 

“I can relate to her on so many levels,” de Saint Sernin said.

Harris Reed‘s debut for Nina Ricci exhibits many of his hallmarks: that attenuated, androgynous suiting, the ultra-wide-brim screen-siren millinery. However, it also captures the essence of the Nina Ricci brand in its heyday. 

“People think a lot of the time that [Nina Ricci] was quite poetic and soft, but it’s not,” Reed said following the show on Friday. “The most surprising thing I got from the archives was how much color, how much silhouette, how much drama there was, because a lot of it was very undocumented.”

Nina Ricci Fall 2023.

Nina Ricci Fall 2023.

De Saint Sernin and Reed are the two latest examples of young designers that have gained traction in the industry for their own talked-about fashion endeavors, and are now tasked with resurrecting luxury heritage houses that, while remaining operational, haven’t had, say, a Bottega Veneta-level reinvention.

Charles de Vilmorin is another, having released his first collection for Rochas for Spring 2022 at just 24 years old. He had a promising start at the brand, not least for the prints derived from the illustration work at which he excels. However, he failed to find his feet in subsequent outings. Fall 2023, though, marks a turning point: With a concise 21-look offering shown via presentation rather than a full show, it feels like he regained his momentum with fluid, elevated daywear and sculptural evening attire. 

It goes to show that a longterm strategy pays off when nurturing emerging creative talent.

Rochas Fall 2023.

Rochas Fall 2023.

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The archives proved pivotal to both de Saint Sernin and Reed ahead of their debuts this season. They announced their respective appointments last year via professional portraits of themselves, each wearing archival pieces from their new employers’ houses — Reed choosing a pair of tulle gloves from a 1992 haute couture collection, de Saint Sernin picking six different looks (after having tried on 89) styled by Olivier Rizzo.

Having cut his teeth on the design team at Balmain, 32-year-old de Saint Sernin launched his eponymous brand in 2017, and was nominated for the LVMH Prize the following year. (Ida Petersson, Browns Fashion’s buying director of, describes his aesthetic as “in-your-face subtle — very subversive, very sexy, yet elevated.”) Meanwhile, Reed had created exuberant stage costumes for Harry Styles and interned with Alessandro Michele at Gucci before he even graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2020. 

In the run-up to their Paris Fashion Week debuts, each drummed up anticipation for their new chapters with key celebrity moments. First stop for Reed involved Adele in a custom Nina Ricci dress on stage in Las Vegas, followed by Styles in a velvet tuxedo at the BRIT Awards in London, and Florence Pugh in a dramatic tulle gown at the BAFTAs. (The latter two featured on his Fall 2023 runway for the brand.) 

Nina Ricci Fall 2023 3
Florence Pugh attends the EE BAFTA Film Awards 2023

“We’ve been praying for new designers to get into these positions,” Pierre A. M’Pelé, GQ France head of editorial content, said leaving the Ann Demeulemeester show. “Finally, we have new blood.” 

M’Pelé thought de Saint Sernin “brought something super sharp and sexy” to Ann Demeulemeester with this first collection, “and also explored the relationship between the feminine and the masculine, and how the definition of a man can evolve. I think that’s super important, as Ann has always been somebody who’s breaking boundaries and barriers. Ludovic has done this in his own right.”

The buzz surrounding a new designer — especially two as talked-about as de Saint Sernin and Reed — is also a major draw for these heritage houses.

“It just makes them so current,” said Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council. “Nina Ricci is a beautiful brand, but probably not front of mind for dressing the most exciting music stars in the world. Reed brings youth and heritage together with his sense of playfulness and exquisite style.”

Browns Fashion’s Petersson argues that both designers bring “a wonderful no-limits way of thinking,” as they “haven’t gotten jaded,” noting, “Sometimes, if you’ve been around for a while, you have so much feedback that it starts to impact on how you design.” 

Ann Demeulemeester Fall 2023.

Ann Demeulemeester Fall 2023.

Behind the creativity and celebrity currency, there’s also a solid business strategy: You can see the looks that stomped the Ann Demeulemeester Fall 2023 runway translating immediately, the longline skirts especially assimilating effortlessly into wardrobes for both day and night. Nina Ricci is more couture-centric, but a commercial collection was actually shown and sold earlier this year — well in advance of Paris Fashion Week.

“The sales went over all of our targets,” Reed said. “I really played on how femininity can work in a day-to day-wardrobe.” (Look out for the denim, he teases.)

While she acknowledged that the pressure to make an immediate impact is more intense than ever, Petersson applauds these designers for their ability to split their time so successfully. She likened this ability that of the more seasoned Jonathan Anderson, noting that a lot of it comes down to having the support of executives. 

And, hopefully, the domino effect brings increased exposure — and sales — to both de Saint Sernin and Reed’s own namesake labels.  As M’Pelé pointed out, “Having the platform of a heritage brand can only help their career and creative visions.” 

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