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Haider Ackermann: “I used to be quite dark”

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Haider Ackermann
Photo by Baptiste Mourrieras
Short Profile

Name: Haider Ackermann
DOB: 29 March 1971
Place of birth: Bogota, Colombia
Occupation: Fashion designer

Haider, as a designer, does your creativity come from happiness or darkness?

My creativity used to come from a dark place… When you are young, you are very tormented and very insecure. I never did analyze, I never went to see a shrink and deal with any of that. I should have, but I never did. I’m not all about analyzing. I don't like to dig into things. You don't want to sound like the artist that just goes through pain to be able to produce, but I used to be quite dark — trust me. I used to be quite dark.

And that changed?

I try to be more optimistic and to move forwards. And now there's a little bit more confidence. Now my creativity comes from happiness. It's nice to dream and build up your own story, you know, I like to search for things and have some fantasy. Even when you're in a museum or you’re visiting another country, you have guides who tell you explain everything… I don't need that. I like to look at a painting and add my own story about it, there's something more beautiful in that.

It seems like for creative people, no one wants to live solely in their own reality.

No, therefore we do this job, right? Well, actually, this job is also an escape. Making things, dreaming of the clothes, that's also escaping. I also like the peace of mind that you have when you're abroad, I can take the time to read, to relax… I can't take the time to read in Paris! There is a kind of easiness and peacefulness in travelling that allows you to observe, and to do things, especially in those civilizations, like India or Korea, that are so far away from you.

“Travel is just about observing people. You capture a story, you take it with you, in you, and it becomes a part of you.”

Steve McCurry once said that there’s a kind of poetry in the commonality of humanity that we’re witness to when we travel to other countries.

Right and that's so intriguing and fascinating. I love to explore those kinds of countries. When I travel, it’s not really in the interest of clothes, it's just about observing people in general. You capture a story, you take it with you, in you, and it becomes a part of you. It doesn't mean if I'm in India I will take all the sarees and copy them — I don't take pictures of clothes or anything, I just try to infiltrate and what stays, stays. It’s in my memory. It's never a first-degree inspiration. It's more about the mood. I'll be the most happy in India, for example, or in Bhutan. In Bhutan, they're the best-dressed people in the world.

How come?

They put stripes with flowers and velvet and it’s all these mixtures of fabric together. It looks fantastic. When I’m working I’m trying to concentrate, trying to really be on top of the world, while they just have it naturally. Look at the way they are draping their scarves, I try for three hours to understand it but they just do it. The beauty, it’s incredible. It’s not another fact that you have to analyze or think about. They just put things together and that's it. It is unconscious and when you get unconscious, it is like a kind of freedom. 

Apparently you like the imperfections in your own designs because it gives them character. Is that also a type of freedom?

I love it! There will always be failure in me anyway, so I'm used to that, you know? There will always be a crack in the wall — but to try to make that crack beautiful is nice. (Laughs)

You seem very at peace with that analysis.

Actually, I think there's a big lack of confidence in me as well, which people might think is negative but in my way, it's very positive. It helps you to move on, to try and get better every season, to grow every season. You know, every season you have to present something, so you just have to go for it. I could not be a filmmaker, I could not be a writer, who has endless time to write a book. I love the fact that every collection is a new chapter, and you have to continue. There's doubt and there's troubled waters and sometimes you don't know where to swim. It can make me anxious, but at the same time it's survival, I like it. I rationalize it! (Laughs) I still have to be like a soldier.

I guess it’s also in those troubled waters that you grow the most.

Yeah, exactly! You’re questioning things, and those questions are always very interesting. I think every person who is curious is more fascinating, and exploration is a big part of that. If you know everything in advance, if you're so self-confident with everything you know, then everything will stop at some point. You will never make the perfect dress, you will never make the perfect suit. Only a few could do it — although, I have to say, I would love to do the perfect suit. Like Saint Laurent did. He was one of the few.

But even if you achieve your version of perfection, it doesn’t guarantee that a piece will sell.

That’s true. Women are also so affected by all the things being advertised in magazines and things like that. There are too many visions for women, while men don’t have as many clothes thrown at them. I personally think that men have much more freedom than women, or that they take much more freedom. Good Lord, I hope this is not going to affect my sales with the women now! (Laughs) 

“That’s the biggest compliment at the end of the day; people wearing it. I love the intimacy that one can have with clothes.”

Is it true that your favorite pieces from the collection are the ones that don’t sell?

Yes, I’m still like that. Sometimes I know certain pieces are not going to sell, I know people aren't going to like them, but I do them anyway. I’m very stubborn in my ways. I just have to continue, otherwise I wouldn't make sense… These days it does make me happy when my clothing sells because that means that people are going to wear it. That’s the biggest compliment at the end of the day; people wearing it. I love the intimacy that one can have with clothes.

Is there something aspirational to that intimacy as well? We tend to treasure the things we’ve spent more money on…

Yeah, of course, and that’s nice! The desire to have those pieces is something as well. They are expensive and you have to work for it. I like that you can dream about something until you get it. I think that in life, you can't get used to getting everything as fast as possible. I like the idea that you have to wait four months before you get this piece that you saw four months ago. I like this.

Does that give you a bigger responsibility to your clients, to make clothes that will last?

I love things to last. But it feels like now with all this fast, this speed, the timing that we have, we don’t even really have time to love the pieces that we own… I think it's such a shame what's happening at the moment, not only as a human being to not have time to realize it, but also on a process, for every designer, it's like how fast can you go. In the end, the only thing that we have to do is just try and make nice clothes, and if we succeed in it, that makes a person happy, so it’s the only thing we should give.