Esquire Interview: Haider Ackermann

We sit down with the Colombian-born designer and the new creative director for Berluti to find out more about what makes a fashion maverick and his vision for the brand.

BY Eugene Lim | Sep 22, 2017 | Fashion

Photograph by Primol Xue (JumboPhotographe)

Esquire: Let’s begin.

Haider Ackermann: You’re well-prepared.

Esquire: I want to start by asking about how your name always seems to come up whenever a Creative Director position falls vacant at a fashion house. How do you feel about that?

Haider Ackermann: There are moments when it can be a bit scary, in the sense that people start to watch my every move like seeing journalists camped outside my apartment. It takes a toll on you. You feel honoured that people think that you are suitable, and you reach a point when you realise that you have to take yourself very seriously because other people do. So, it is reinforcement, it is knowledge.

So, why Berluti, and why now?

Haider Ackermann: There’s always a right moment for things. And perhaps, I was not prepared before and wanted to do something else. I think Berluti came at a moment in my life when I was a little more relaxed, when I was asking myself, “Okay, I’ve been doing this for so many years now. What’s the next step? Yes, I’ve had offers, but I’ve refused them. I need to do something.” And suddenly, a brand that does only menswear comes my way—which is the most unexpected thing. You can see the challenge, and your curiosity gets sharper, and you’re like, “You know what? This might be the right moment. This might be the thing that takes me off my road and excites me.”

Esquire: To push you to do something that you’ve never done before?

Haider Ackermann: Yes, and to push me to do things differently, push me to enter new worlds, and to excite myself. Because we need to feel alive and kicking, and this was something so unexpected that I knew the audience would be surprised—and I would be surprised too.

Esquire: Do you regard your work at Berluti as an evolution or a revolution?

Haider Ackermann: I can’t say it’s a revolution because it would mean that I am saying the Creative Director before me (Alessandro Satori) didn’t do as good a job as he could have. It’s a different approach. I think that we are two different human beings, with different approaches. I’m very happy and very honoured to follow him because he’s established a foundation, one built on working with beautiful textiles and materials. He has a know-how about suits, and he had this road to take, and perhaps, he laid down a foundation for me at Berluti, so I’m quite grateful to him, actually. It’s up to my team and me now to take the road that we would like to take, while respecting all the codes of the house, because I’m not here to push everything away just to write my own story. No. I would like to continue the story that’s been told so that the person who comes after me will be able to continue that road, and then, together, we can make Berluti what Berluti is supposed to be.

What’s your inspiration for this collection?

Haider Ackermann: The inspiration behind the collection?

Esquire: Has this been asked way too many times?

Haider Ackermann: Why, can you see it on my face? [Laughs]

Esquire: Yes. [Laughs] Let me pose the question to you in another way.

Haider Ackermann: Please.

Esquire: In the press release for the collection, there were a few keywords in your mood board like “Trash”, “Dark” and “Wood”, and the concept focuses on a man at dawn after he has collected a wealth of nocturnal experiences. How did you come up with that idea?

Haider Ackermann: One needs to be very careful because, as I’m listening to you, I realise that I never thought about it in that way before. When you say, “nocturnal life”, you think immediately about youth. I don’t think the Berluti man is that youthful. He’s not a man who goes clubbing. That’s not him. He’s a man that, at night, thinks about the choices that he’s made in life, knowing that he had to walk down a particular road and not turn back. This happened in the middle of everything, and so he is much more a man who is confronted with things in life, and he needs to make choices and, to make choices, you require a certain maturity. So, he’s not in his twenties. I am thinking of a man who is in his thirties or forties, you know? Or even in his fifties.

I wanted the collection to have this kind of attitude, a kind of loneliness, a kind of carelessness. The man isn’t conscious of the fact he wears expensive clothes. There’s an unconsciousness about it. He knows—I mean obviously, he bought them—but he doesn’t treat them as such. I think there’s nothing more beautiful than a man wearing cashmere coat, but not submitting it. There’s a real beauty and luxury about a garment when you don’t put it on a pedestal. And that piece comes alive because that man has developed a kind of intimacy with his clothes. He’s just wearing them. That’s the mood that I wanted to give. I want to make the Berluti man less precious about the clothes that he wears.

I would like to talk about your first fashion show with house. The point of all fashion shows is to present clothes in their most beautiful form. But when I watched your show, not only did I see the clothes, but also the men who are living in them.

Haider Ackermann: Yes. But I think what was very important was for the show to set the mood. I wanted to show that the clothes are alive. I would have loved for the clothes to have been= lived in for half a year before we presented them, like they had become part of the models. I don’t believe that all the models should be hangers on the runway, but rather should be men of a certain reality. I wanted the audience to feel like they were having coffee on a sidewalk—I should have served you guys coffee [Laughs]—and just observing these models walking by. If something caught your eye, it was because it triggered something inside.

Esquire: It’s like a fleeting moment. 

Haider Ackermann: Exactly. It’s a stolen moment.

Esquire: In a previous interview, you mentioned that you are a womenswear designer at heart, yet you’ve always had great success in menswear. I remember becoming aware of “Haider Ackermann” when Kanye West wore a bomber of yours and it sold out immediately.

Haider Ackermann: Did you see Kayne in the water in Prague?

Esquire: No.

Haider Ackermann: You should see that concert. Yes. He sent me a video, and I was like, “Seriously?” I wrote to him, like, “Dude, seriously, you just wore my bomber jacket in the water? You jump in the lake?”[Laughs]

Esquire: Do you feel that designing womenswear has helped your process when designing for Berluti?

Haider Ackermann: Yes—and vice versa. I think everything falls into each other, they intertwine and it’s interesting. I can take things that are Berluti to my label, but at the same time, I think there are things from my label that I can bring to Berluti, without fear of there being a negative effect, even if each exists in a different world.

One of the biggest trends in fashion right now is sportswear. Everyone’s going a bit sportier.

Haider Ackermann: Do you think that trends interest me?

Esquire: What I feel is that you didn’t do that at all in Berluti. You could have done something that’s a bit sportier, but you are still focused on a very military, very formal kind of dressing. Can I ask: why did you make that decision?

Haider Ackermann: Because a trend is something that... it’s a word that I don’t like. It’s not in my dictionary. It’s not something that makes me dream or desire. I often feel that when there’s a trend in front of me, I want to go the opposite way because I think, as designers, we shouldn’t all fall into one. Yes, everybody’s selling trainers. You know that every house has trainers, but you need to understand that it’s part of doing business. 

But it also means that we should be ahead of this, and that’s our job. Perhaps, in the past, lots of head designers brought trainers to their houses. Now it’s become a global thing, but trends are so boring to me. 

I’ve never been trendy. I’ve never been interested in trends. But it’s business that we have to keep an eye on. So yes, there will be a sports element in the collection. If I see a lot of sneakers on the streets, of course, it will be ingrained in my mind. 

In the past, designers dictated trends. Now, we are looking at what is happening in the world, and actually, it is the street that has more influence than designers. The role has changed. I need to find my way into it.

At Berluti, we will have some sportswear—there will be sneakers, and there will be formal shoes. The idea is to mix all that: to have formal shoes with joggers, finishing the look with a cashmere coat. That’s how men are dressing nowadays because they have no time to think, so they put everything together without thinking. And that’s going to be my Berluti man.

Esquire: Do you try to design your pieces so that they complement each other?

Haider Ackermann: Nothing should work together. I’m always surprised when people come to my showroom and say, “Okay, I should buy this, because it goes with what was shown last season. No. You buy a piece because you love it and it doesn’t have to fit in with any season or whatever. 

It’s just like falling in love with something. It’s going to be your own story, you as a human being, an individual, and you style it the way you want to. And everyone’s got a story to tell.

I feel like what you just said is a way to define what patina is. 

Haider Ackermann: You see layers of it, and some colours don’t fit each other, but at the end of the day, it all comes
together and it’s great.

Esquire: And it’s yours.

Haider Ackermann: Yes. And it’s your story. And this is important. We’re living in a world where everything starts to look the same. We are all individuals. Everyone has a story to tell. Designs are there only to propose, but not to dictate.

Esquire: Interesting. I like that. Berluti is known for its craftsmanship with leather. Could you tell me more about your approach to leather in this collection, and what are your plans for the accessories range?

Haider Ackermann: You want to know my plans? [Laughs]

Esquire: Yes please.

Haider Ackermann: You have to put my plans in there?

Esquire: You can share a snippet of your plans if you like.

Haider Ackermann: Of course, leather is a very big item in Berluti. And this is also one of the reasons I was excited to collaborate with Berluti. Leather is something that’s very sensuous. It’s soft, it’s hard, it lives, and you make it your own. And leather is constantly evolving, becoming more beautiful over time. So, that was the attraction for me. It’s something that I would like to explore in Berluti. It’s something I’m really, really attracted to.

Esquire: You use a lot of boots in your collection. Can I ask why?

Haider Ackermann: Berluti is known for their formal shoes, and it’s something that I will incorporate more of into my work for the house. But for the first collection, I needed to give a different kind of energy. I think that it was all somewhat expected from me, and I needed to challenge myself also. So, I wanted to have boots, but in crocodile or lizard.

Taking an item from a different generation, but remaking them in an alternative material, gives it a twist, which makes it quite different. It also lends a different attitude because when you wear formal shoes, you walk differently, as opposed to combat boots. Pairing boots with formal suits gives a little bit of a clash.

What would you like your legacy at Berluti to be?

Haider Ackermann: My legacy? Oh, my Lord. Dude, I’ve only done one season. [Laughs] You make me feel like I have one foot in the grave. I still have a few years to go. I don’t want to work on a legacy. At the end of my contract, I just want them to say: “Haider was at the service of Berluti and that’s what he did, and he did it well.” And that the person who follows me will be inspired by that and continue down the same road. That’s all. I’m there for them. If I could make a collection that everyone can identify with the house of Berluti, that would make me very proud. My legacy… you are stressing me out now. [Laughs]

Esquire: I’m so sorry! [Laughs] Put it this way, how would you like people to remember Haider?

Haider Ackermann: I would love my friends and loved ones to remember that we had a great time together, that I was a faithful friend, and that I was honest. That’s all I care about.

Esquire: Is there anything that I didn’t ask but you would like to add?

Haider Ackermann: There are so many things you didn’t ask. I think you ask good questions. [Laughs] You know what? I’m going to spend the whole night thinking about my legacy now. Do you understand?

Esquire: If I have any follow-up questions, can I speak to you over the press dinner tomorrow?

Haider Ackermann: You’re going to interview me over dinner tomorrow?

Esquire: No, we can just talk as friends if you like.

Haider Ackermann: Do you think that after one interview we can become friends? [Laughs] That’s easy for you.

Esquire: I hope so! But tell me what do I need to do to be a friend of Haider?

Haider Ackermann: What you need to do to be a friend of Haider? Oh, good Lord. That’s not going to be easy, dude. I live in a very small world, and have had the same friends for the last 20 years. I don’t have paintings. I don’t have photographs. I don’t have many houses and apartments, but I do have friends. And I have friends who are so faithful to me that, sometimes, I’m so surprised and shocked that they stand by my side, no matter what. And that’s just great. So, my own form of luxury is my friendships. So yeah. Let’s see.

Esquire: We’ll see.

Haider Ackermann: Time will tell because you don’t build a friendship in one day. A friendship is an organic thing. It’s a growing story.

Esquire: Thank you. it’s very nice to meet you.

Haider Ackermann: Absolutely, likewise.

This article was first published in the print edition of Esquire Singapore, September 2017.