Haider Ackermann, creative director of Berluti, is a dreamer. He advises aspiring designers never to stop dreaming, as it can, and will, lead to bigger things in life.

Most great fashion designers get their start when they are given their very first sewing machine, as in the case of Isaac Mizrahi or Gianni Versace, who was influenced by his dressmaker mother. Unlike these designers, however, Haider Ackermann knew he wanted to be in fashion when he saw a group of women walking in the Sahara Desert and was seduced by the movement and colours of the fabric they were wearing. Although he was only six years old then, it stirred something in him as he witnessed this as well as the veiled women in the shadows as they floated through the medinas — the narrow, walled streets of North Africa.

In an exclusive interview with Options at the Park Hyatt in Seoul, Korea last month, Ackermann says, “I have this beautiful memory of the Sahara at twilight, when the men turned towards the sun to pray. I was in a jeep and I could see this image of black and navy blue fabric blowing in the wind, and it gave me goosebumps, as it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life.” Ackermann was in Seoul for the presentation of his fall/winter collection to the press.

North Africa was where Ackermann lived as a child, because his father’s job as a map maker brought the family to all sorts of exotic locations. When his father retired, the family settled in the Netherlands, and it was then on to formal fashion education for the Colombian- born Ackermann.

He enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp — a school with a reputation for being the most demanding. For Ackermann, it paid off, as he served as an intern with John Galliano and later worked as a designer for Mayerline. In 2001, he started his own label and showed at Paris Fashion Week. His creations have been worn by the likes of Tilda Swinton, Victoria Beckham and Kanye West.

In January, as newly minted creative director of Berluti, Ackermann unveiled his collection for men. He did not disappoint and received a host of media accolades for the men’s fashion brand of LVMH.

Ackermann’s focus was on the patina, whereby he created coats and trousers with a certain worn look to them — in the same way a piece of stone gets a tarnished look over years of wear. Models were seen on the runway clad in coats or trousers that had a desirable worn look to them.

The concept? Ackermann played with words such as “trash”, “dark” and “wood” with the storyboard of a man waking up at dawn after a big night out. With that in mind, Ackermann worked on the shades of night such as blue, pink and burgundy — hues that clash in a fashionable way.

One of the standout pieces spied by fashionistas on the runway was the black aviator jacket teased with hints of red crocodile skin on the lapels. The jacket was one of the items on display at art gallery space Moss Studio in Seoul, where a media presentation was held. Other items on display were bomber jackets, velvet tuxedos and cashmere sweaters — all paired elegantly with lace-up boots and casual bags.

A day before the press event, Ackermann was interviewed by journalists from the region. Options spoke to the designer about his creative process and his inspirations.

What was your inspiration behind this collection?
What I [would] like to do with the house of Berluti is to try and define who the Berluti man is — what his attitude and lifestyle are. But, of course, it is not possible to do that over one season. What’s important for me is to try to find out who this man is, who travels a lot and has quite a busy life. I am trying to find out where he is coming from and what he is doing.

We can talk about inspiration, but it is more than that — Berluti is where we talk about quality, craftsmanship, beautiful garments and longevity. It is not a fashion house where we should make eight items and be very fashionable, because not every man desires this. Perhaps I am getting old and do not desire to be loud and to have the latest trends like when I was younger. And there is an audience for this, I believe.

In an online interview in March, you mentioned that your creativity comes from a dark place. Is that still true?
I don’t like to say this because when you read it, it means that I had to suffer to do things, which is not true. Creativity in my case comes from somewhere exciting and it comes from a deeper place. I prefer to say a deeper place rather than a darker place — yes, it sounds more reasonable.

Besides designing for the Berluti man, what other things inspire you?
Everything that catches my eye — it can be one sentence from a journalist; it can be a book that I have read; or it can be the man on the street or the woman in a corner of a bar. Everything that catches my eye and makes me question the appeal of it. Like all designers, we are very observant people and we have radar eyes. We see everything that catches our eye and makes our heart beat just a little bit faster than normal.

How has your work evolved since you joined the house of Berluti?
It has helped me focus more and concentrate on the design. The Berluti man is much more refined and we have to define his attitude and style. It is about a kind of luxury which is something new for me. Berluti helps me to be more focused, and at the same time it has given me the freedom to express myself differently for different occasions. I feel focused; yes, that’s the right word, and it feels great, as I am getting older.

How do you approach your designs? Do they come from a conceptual point of view?
I start with a blank paper. I never draw. I start writing and it is words that come into my mind — usually after midnight. It is when everything comes into my head, because that is the moment when you are quiet and you are at peace with yourself.

My days are quite busy and during the day you don’t work. You work on making things happen but your mind is not working in that sense. But once you are in bed, everything comes crashing into your head. Next to my bed are piles of notebooks in which I write sentences. The next day, when I see my team, I have those words and they can be descriptions for what I would like to express.

How has this recent collection been received internationally?
Honestly, I think it has been well-received. At first, there was a little bit of pressure because people were wondering what Berluti had to do with Haider Ackermann. There were a lot of questions and I think people were a little bit doubtful. I had to try and make it work so that the house [of Berluti] would be proud to have me. Now, I am looking out for the next one to make it better than the previous one.

When did you realise you wanted to be a fashion designer?
There was never a point in my life where I said to my parents that I wanted to be a designer. It was like they knew it all along. I lived in Africa and to me it was all about the movement of fabrics in the wind. Because the women were veiled in the shadows, they looked like ghosts walking through the medina, which appeared absolutely exceptional. I was seduced by every movement of fabric that would blow in the wind.

My mum will tell you that I collected fabrics to see how they would drape and fall. I was not in Europe and did not know anything about fashion. I did not even know the word ‘fashion’ existed until I arrived in Europe at the age of 12. To me, fashion was just the movement of fabric that I saw, which led to my interest in fashion.

You studied at one of the most demanding schools, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. How did that training prepare you for the future?
It was very hard training because you enter the first year with 120 students, and after the first year you are left with 40, and when I left only 10 remained. It was tough and I chose to be at this academy because it was all about respect for the human being, whether you are a woman or a man.

It was about respecting the codes of a woman and not making the woman a piece of art or extremely beautiful that she becomes an object. It was very respectful towards the human body so that was why I loved this school.

What advice would you give young designers?
Something absolutely boring and oversaid, but absolutely true — do not stop dreaming. Keep on dreaming because when I lived in foreign countries I kept on dreaming, and that never stopped until the moment I wanted to show my parents that all those years of dreaming were meant for something big.

Never give up on that because you are the only one who knows you, only you can make things happen for yourself.

What are you fascinated by at the moment, and is this going to inspire your next collection for Berluti?
Men. I am living in a man’s world. Yes, it is a man’s world, but even in my women’s collection there will always be lots of masculinity, because the women I design for are always searching for masculinity. That does not mean they wear androgynous [clothes], because that’s another thing.

Now, more than ever, I am seduced by everything in the masculine world, and Berluti has been helping me to reinforce that. Yes, I am curious to know what my future is going to bring me now. I embrace the uncertainty, and I certainly embrace this future of mine.


Military style

In every runway collection, there will always be a standout piece. For Berluti, the Bomber jacket has to be the one. Creative director Haider Ackermann has added his own fashionable spin to his latest offering.

In keeping with the spirit of the fall/winter collection’s “Military” theme, the bomber makes a distinct statement by bringing together Berluti’s heritage — noble materials, meticulous attention to detail and uncompromising expertise — with Ackermann’s talent as a colourist.

The Berluti Bomber comes in four styles, two in leather and two in fabric.

The two leather bombers are:

• The rock-inspired glossy lambskin style seen on the runway, featuring a removable shearling collar with an alligator undercollar in rich crimson, a colour echoed in its quilted silk lining; other touches include leather details and wool ribbing; and

• The calfskin nubuck style in military khaki with lambskin trim, fixed shearling collar, quilted off-white silk lining and wool ribbing.

The two fabric bombers come in two of the collection’s key materials — casual cashmere and velvet dress variations:

• The anthracite 100% cashmere style has a fixed shearling collar and an alligator undercollar in deep emerald, a signature colour in the fall collection; other details include quilted khaki technical lining, lambskin details and wool ribbing; and

• The dark purple quilted velvet style features black serge sleeves, lambskin and Berluti Jacron leather details, a removable shearling collar, quilted technical lining and wool ribbing.

Berluti Bombers are priced from $5,750 to $13,500

This article appeared in Issue 782 (June 5) of The Edge Singapore.