“Pop Witch.” It’s a term people are trying on for size these days in an attempt to describe the dark and shamanistic vibe many of today’s most vital female pop talents are conjuring in video and onstage: Lykke Li, Fever Ray, and most conspiciously, Florence Welch, have ushered in this aesthetic. It’s reflected on the runways, especially by designers like Belgian maverick Ann Demeulemeester, who already specializes in varying degrees of light, darkness, and bohemia. She’s been a friend to Patti Smith, whose touch is palpable throughout every collection.
Indeed, Demeulemeester’s muse is an “urban poetess,” a morphing ideal that allows her to project updated moody iterations onto her collections, while maintaining a fluid continuity of design ideas from season to season. For Spring 2012, this muse has a name, Isabelle Eberhardt, and a history — a Swiss girl on a North African voyage, according to show notes. It all relates back to Symbolist French poet Arthur Rimbaud, in theory. But to the wearer, it’s about the state of emotion Rimbaud’s poetry captures. And to a musical audience, it’s about how those draping robes might look against a smoke machine and microphone.
Even minus the benefit of an inventive backstory, Demeulemeester put forth the kind of clothing many women — musicians, poetesses, or something more mortal — want to wear right now. The silhouettes flow, the palette strikes a balance between black and white, and the individual pieces juxtapose the tension of masculinity and femininity that continues to defines the designer’s most memorable looks. Within the options you could already imagine specific characters in them: Alison Mosshart would love the slouchy hats (part cowboy, part conquistador); Welch and Lykke Li would adorn themselves in the spidery openwork knits and spectral gauzy gowns; Fever Ray would likely wear something of her own creation, but her music, ancient and modern at once, would complete the ethereal picture. And somewhere, always and forever, Patti Smith would be nodding, giving her perennial blessing.