The greatest luxury anyone can have is friendship—or so Haider Ackermann’s parents told him when he was growing up. “It was such a beautiful thing for them to say,” he recalled recently. “When you travel the world like I do, you don’t belong anywhere except with your family and friends. We all come from different fields, but my friends are always there for me—at my birthday parties, at my shows. And we are always happy to see each other and to be together again.”
When W invited the designer to talk about the things that inspire and intrigue him, friendship was at the top of his list, and he wanted to be photographed with some of those closest to him: all women, of varying ages, leading quite different lives—including his most famous client, Tilda Swinton, whose singular beauty has become synonymous with his sensuously modern style. Then there’s the curator Louise Neri, a director at Gagosian Gallery in New York; the jewelry designer Harumi Klossowska de Rola; Dina Haïdar, co-owner of the artisanal Paris store Liwan; Savanna Widell, an agent at Management Artists in Paris; and the casting director Alexandra Sandberg, who works on Ackermann’s shows.
The rest of Ackermann’s inspirations are drawn from various episodes of a dazzlingly peripatetic life. Born in Bogotá, Colombia, Ackermann was adopted as a baby by a French couple who had already adopted a girl from Vietnam and a boy from South Korea. The family traveled to wherever Ackermann’s father, a cartographer, was working, and lived in Algeria, Chad, Ethiopia, and Iran, then settled in the Netherlands when Haider was 12. At 25, Haider moved to Belgium to study fashion at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, before scrimping together enough money to produce a collection and show it in Paris in 2002. Three years later, Ackermann secured the backing of a Belgian investor, Anne Chapelle, and opened an atelier in Paris.
All of the designer’s inspirations share a subtext—be it a favorite place, film, color, performance, or fellow fashion designer. “I love anything that allows me to experience what the French call errance,” he said. “There isn’t really an equivalent word in English, but it’s something like ‘wandering’ or ‘losing yourself’—maybe by escaping to an unfamiliar place—or just dreaming.”