It’s ultimately admirable when a person knows that he or she said what they had to say and passed up. It’s what more people should do.
Raf Simons in the Artist is Absent
Martin Margiela may have retired and retreated (further, and almost completely away) from fashion as late as 2009 when his 20th anniversary collection was shown in Paris, but in 2017 it’s becoming clearer than ever that today truly is his time.
Enough has been said about the quiet revolution he sparked with Maison Martin Margiela. What with the elevation of the mundane, its beautiful atelier and team-minded approach, honesty towards garments and the love of the truthful passage of time. On a surface level, raw hems, reversed seams, oversized garments etc. owe him a debt of rationalisation – but I’d argue that it was his philosophical approach to fashion that is affecting the industry and times at a more crucial level.
What I revere and respect most about Martin’s approach is the dually plain and complex way he viewed clothing. Plainly, they are garments with which one clothes the body. They can look every which way and say a multitude of things about the wearer. They accompany one throughout the duration of its ownership and wear and reflect that particular history of the wearer. In fewer words than it deserves, clothing is simply clothing. The house presents that with its lack of branding – save for four basting stitches originally intended to be cut off for anonymity. Though that is questionable considering Jenny Meirens’ recent profile by Susannah Frankel in which she said Martin specifically decided on the stitches after figuring out a way to placate the brand’s lawyers re a blank label.
On a more conceptual level, Martin was a representation of the fierce countercultural attitudes of his time. Glamour, he saw very early, was a manufactured product of culture and a symptom of the disease of money. Fashion, he decided, could be all at once an intellectual exercise and a practical product of design. This is most apparent in the cuts of Margiela dresses. No one talks about it but Martin’s dresses were sexy. There is a respectful fetishisation of the body and beauty that is reservedly provocative.
Anyway, I could go on and on. Martin Margiela was one of two designers who first resonated with me so deeply that I decided fashion would be a worthwhile pursuit. The first was John Galliano who offered fantasy, and the man in discussion here is the one who provided solace. You feel, with Margiela designs, that you are wrapped up and protected in the fabric hug of a man who understands you. The clothing are shy but fiercely intelligent friends – if you are in the right company, the stitches are a beacon of friendship.
In many ways, designers today are reflecting his mentality. The direct references are numerous: oversizing, a precisely awkward tailoring, romanticisation of the typical, the up-cycling of vintage, etc.
My go-tos for understanding the man and brand are:
But what I’m most excited about is We Margiela, a documentary by the Mint Film Office in Rotterdam. It’s slated to come out this year and based on their Instagram, there’s going to be a lot of archival material sussed out and brought to light. Thank god, because the most comprehensive way of getting to such material so far has been the Rizzoli book. The more Margiela the better.
Featured image: MoMu/Frédéric Uyttenhove