This spring Ann Demeulemeester will release her third collaboration with the Belgian houseware company Serax. The long-term partnership began as an exercise in pottery, a hobby that Demeulemeester picked up after retiring from her eponymous fashion brand. But this being her, a hobby quickly turned into an obsessive pursuit of excellence, which Demeulemeester, with the help of Serax has been able to share with the public. One thing led to another, from pottery to a collection of porcelain lighting and now to glass. For the third iteration Demeulemeester concentrated on this material that can be both fragile and strong, a combination that has always been Demeulemeester’s ethos. Another combination that is central to Demeulemeester’s heart, that of light and show, also plays a role. “This whole project is about light,” she told me over the phone. “In fact every piece has to do with light.”
Like for many of us, the environmental impact of humanity has been weighing on Demeulemeester’s mind. Even for her first collection with Serax, she was adamant to have plastic-free packaging, for example. The fundamental tension she experiences is between that of a creator who must create, and with the fact that she’s adding to the amount of stuff on the planet. “It’s always nice that you end up with something that wouldn’t be there if you didn’t make it,” she said. “You are responsible for putting this into the world, so you have to make the best of it. Even if what you make is difficult, there is no guarantee that it’s good work just because it was difficult. In the end the objects we made are luxury, you don’t need them. But that’s exactly what makes it different. Beautiful things are food for the soul. What we’ve made this time is different than making a plate for a cup. It comes closer to sculpture, and that’s what excites me.”
The collection leads off with four candle holders in transparent and in black crystal glass, named after the four seasons, in transparent glass and in black. The hefty objects are deceptively simple in shape, though some of them were painstaking to make because of the corners that had to be done just so, letting the material do the talking. “It’s very hard to make a heavy block of crystal glass,” Demeulemeester said. “It took us a year to achieve the shape of the ‘Spring’ holder.”
Demeulemeester’s approach has always been making the things she would want to have in her life. She burns candles every day at her home, so candle holders made sense as a progression from her pottery work.
While she was working with the heavy blocks of glass with Patrick Robyn, Demeulemeester’s husband, he had the idea that it would be interesting to turn one into a vase by simply boring a whole in it. The result is a heavy crystal block that can handle much more – like a tall tree branch – than its size suggests. The sides of the vases are sandblasted opaque. “They feel like water, because there are little waves that the process makes that we decided not to touch,” she said.
Demeulemeester also wanted a tall vase, which she first sculpted herself on her pottery wheel. It looked good, but she wanted it also to be made from glass. Lance is a tall glass vase with a heavy solid glass base. Finally, Demeulemeester had the idea that a vase should become a lamp. She was able to realize it by creating a series of vases in different shapes with wooden bases that hold a small bulb. The bases are battery-run and rechargeable, so the vases can be put anywhere. Demeulemeester was particularly excited about how the light gets diffused depending on which flowers are in a vase. “It’s magical, because you have light transported through water and glass,” she said. “The light comes out from the flower. It’s something very present, if you turn off the lights and put the vase in the corner of the room, your mind doesn’t quite understand what it is.”
There are also several new lamps in the collection that skew to the playful side of Demeulemeester’s and Robyn’s personalities. They are shaped from metal into insect-like forms, with paper bag shades painted in phosphorescent paint. This goes back to their childhoods, when it was common in Belgium to have phosphorescent statuettes in children’s rooms that gave off faint light at night.
But as it sometimes happens, playfulness can lead to a dark corner of one’s mind. The final piece in the collection is a small framed mirror, named Dorian. “Imagine you are in the room and there is a little frame hanging, but you don’t quite understand what it is,” Demeulemeester explained. “So, you come closer and all of a sudden you see a reflection of yourself.” Deceptively simple, but opening up so much self-reflection, one can hardly characterize Demeulemeester’s work better than that. I’d like to think that if you haven’t read Oscar Wilde’s macabre masterpiece, a mirror might prompt you to do so.