Martin Margiela, the one and only

Finally the media stopped talking about Maison Martin Margiela for H&M collection. The web has been flooded with articles and posts about the mysterious designer who is (should be) behind Maison Martin Margiela brand. Honestly I got bored of reading superficial and confused words about it, so I’ve decided to re-build the unique career of that talented Belgian boy named Martin Margiela, who became one of the most important designers of the last 25 years.

 

Martin Margiela - portrait 1997
Martin Margiela – portrait 1997

As in the best stories about fashion designers, Martin Margiela’s peculiar talent bloomed during the training at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp (1977-1980). He had the chance to attend the Fashion department in the same years of the “Antwerp Six“, a group of designers (graduate between 1980 and 1981) that captured the attention of the international press breaking into the London Fashion Week in 1988. Actually Margiela is generally considered as the seventh symbolic member, despite he wasn’t physically part of the group set up by Walter Van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs and Marina Yee. Their styles were similar and were inspired by the designer Rei Kawakubo (founder of the brand Comme des Garçons) which influenced the Japanese fashion of the 70s with asymmetric cuts and black and white collections.

 

Antwerp Six - Marina Yee, Dries van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Bikkembergs, Dirk Van Saene
The “Antwerp Six” group: (from left) Marina Yee, Dries van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dirk Bikkembergs, Dirk Van Saene – London Fashion Week 1988
After working as freelance stylist and then as assistant of Jean Paul Gaultier (1985-87), Martin Margiela debuted in the summer of 1988 at the Café de la Gare in Paris with the first Maison Martin Margiela womenswear collection for Spring Summer 1989. He presented a show bordering with performing art, where models bathed in red paint paraded with covered faces on a white cotton catwalk. It was a shocking show, but the de-construction and re-construction of vintage items such as a butcher’s apron turned into evening gown, jackets made from an old tulle dress and the split toe Tabi boots with cylindrical heels inspired by the traditional Japanese socks, became early legends.
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 1989 Women’s show - Photo Raf CoolenMaison Martin Margiela - S/S 1989 Women’s show
S/S 1989 Women’s show – (Photo: Raf Coolen – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 1989 - Silk Tattoo top - Photo - Ronald StoopsMaison Martin Margiela - A/W 1989 - Tabi boots - Photo Ronald Stoops
S/S 1989 – silk tattoo top; Tabi boots (Photo – Ronald Stoops – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 1989 Women’s show - First jacket with round shoulders
S/S 1989 – First jacket with round shoulders (Photo: mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 1989 - Jean Paul Gaultier at first Maison Martin Margiela fashion show
In the audience could not miss his mentor Jean Paul Gaultier.

 

The red paint stained cloth used as catwalk for the first show, was re-used six month later as fabric for the waistcoats of the Fall Winter 1989/1990 collection. The use of second-hand clothes and imperfect fabrics was a blatant act of rebellion against the widespread consumerism and consecrated Margiela as a conceptual designer, conflicting with the conformist fashion of the 80s, just as the hippies had done twenty years before, buying their dressed only at flea markets.

 

Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 1989 - Explanatory sketch for an outfitMaison Martin Margiela - A/W 1989 - vest made from the red paint-stained cotton of the SS89 catwalk
A/W 1989 – Explanatory sketch for an outfit and vest made from the red paint-stained cotton of the S/S 1989 catwalk – (Photo: mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 1989 - porcelain vest
A/W 1989 – Porcelain vest (it reminds me something you should know) – (Photo:MoMu)
 
Margiela was fascinated by the idea of giving a second life to vintage clothes remodeling them thanks to his tailoring skills. He felt quite offended when journalists called him “de-constructive“, because his fashion didn’t have a destructive or negative value, rather it was linked to the concept of rebirth. He liked challenging the dresses’ wearability by playing with the proportions; showing inner linings and frayed hems; or using the inner side of the fabric on the outside of the garments. His personal way of making fashion was ahead of the time and soon all the eyes were on his collections and sartorial details, which later were re-proposed by other designers, turning them into commercial fashion trends.

Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 1990 - INVITATION
S/S 1990 – Children at schools near the Maison were enlisted to create the invitations.  (Photo: mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 1990 - Backstage - Photo Raf Coolen
S/S 1990 – Backstage – (Photo: Raf Coolen – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 1990 - Photo Tatsuya Kitayama
S/S 1990 – A 200% enlarged tank top, crushed under a skintight invisible net t-shirt, becoming a long draped dress.
 (Photo: Tatsuya Kitayama – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 1990 - Photo Ronald StoopsMaison Martin Margiela - S/S 1991 - Photo Ronald Stoops
A/W 1990S/S 1991 (Photo: Ronald Stoops – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 1991 - Photo Ronald Stoops
A/W 1991 – (Photo: Ronald Stoops – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 1992 - show in Saint-Martin metro
The Spring Summer 1992 show in Saint-Martin metro station. The station had been out of use since 1939. 1600 candles illuminated the tree main stairwells.
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 1992 - Photo Marina FaustMaison Martin Margiela - S/S 1992 - Photo Ronald Stoops
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 1992 - Photo Ronald StoopsMaison Martin Margiela - S/S 1992 - Photo Ronald Stoops
S/S 1992 – Textile motifs were painted onto the women’s skin. Colors were applied on the women’s fingertips. Each woman had a rhinestone at the inner corner of each eye. (Photo: Ronald Stoops – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 1992 - Photo Barbara Katz
S/S 1992 – Garments were made from vintage square scarves.
(Photo: Barbara Katz – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 1992 - Photo Ronald Stoops Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 1992 - Photo Ronald Stoops
A/W 1992 – (Photo: Ronald Stoops – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 1993 - Photo Tatsuya Kitayama
S/S 1993 – Backstage (Photo: Tatsuya Kitayama – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
A/W 1993 – Inverted jacquard knit sweater (Photo: mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 1994 - Photo Anders Edström
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 1994 - Photo Tatsuya KitayamaMaison Martin Margiela - S/S 1994 - Photo Tatsuya Kitayama
S/S 1994 – “Retrospective collection”: Iconic looks from 1989 to 1993 showed again in an ex-supermarket with a production of hand-painted jeans from the artisanal line. On models’ necks were painted the names of the season they wore. (Photo: Anders Edström, Tatsuya Kitayama – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 1994 - Photo Nick TupinMaison Martin Margiela - A/W 1994 - Photo: Marina Faust
A/W 1994 – The collections were shown simultaneously in six cities (Paris, London, New York, Tokyo, Milan, and Bonn) when they were delivered to the stores, replacing the traditional Paris fashion show. (Photo: Nick Tupin – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela, Marina Faust – cotonblanc)
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 1994 - Photo Anders EdströmMaison Martin Margiela - A/W 1994 - Photo Anders Edström
A/W 1994 – Elements of a doll’s wardrobe were enlarged 5.2 times to human scale. Disproportionate aspects of the doll’s pieces were retained in the up-scaled outfits, for example in the buttons and zips. (Photo: Anders Edström – cotonblancmmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 1995 Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 1995
S/S 1995 – Backstage (Photo: Stopdropandvogue, sombreboite)
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 1995 - Photo Marina FaustMaison Martin Margiela - A/W 1995 - Photo Ronald Stoops
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 1995 - Photo Ronald Stoops
A/W 1995 – Shown in a circus tent in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. Model faces were covered with a black muslin veil. During the finale, the women removed their veils and carried fuchsia balloons. (Photo: Marina Faust, Ronald Stoops – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 1996 - Photo Guy VoetMaison Martin Margiela - S/S 1996 - Photo Anders Edström
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 1996 - Tabi sandal
S/S 1996 – Photographs of garments were printed on light and fluid fabrics. Then made up into garments of very simple construction. Topless black Tabi sandals were worn with shipping tape repeatedly wrapped around the sole and foot.
(Photo: Guy Voet, Anders Edström – mmm-maisonmartinmargielacotonblanc)
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 1996 - Photo Anders EdströmMaison Martin Margiela - A/W 1996 - Photo Maison Martin Margiela
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 1996 - Photo Marina FaustMaison Martin Margiela - A/W 1996 - Photo Ronald Stoops
A/W 1996 – A brown mask was painted on the upper part of the women’s faces as well as their teeth were painted a shiny white.
(Photo: Anders Edström, Marina Faust, Ronald Stoops – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 1997 - Photo Ronald Stoops
S/S 1997 – An unfinished fabric transformed into a dress with an irregular hemline.  (Photo: Ronald Stoops – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)

 

S/S 1997 – jacket – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 1997Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 1997
A/W 1997
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 1998 - Photo Mark BorthwickMaison Martin Margiela - S/S 1998 - Photo Martin Margiela
S/S 1998
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 1998 - Photo Mark BorthwickMaison Martin Margiela - A/W 1998 - Photo Mark Borthwick
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 1998 - Photo Mark BorthwickMaison Martin Margiela - A/W 1998 - Photo Mark Borthwick
A/W 1998 – Photo: Mark Borthwick – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela
 
In the mid of the 90s a particular trend hits the top of the most important European fashion houses: it’s time to change the creative directors focusing on new talented designers. In those years, unthinkable matches bring fresh air in the dusty fashion system: Tom Ford changes the concept of luxury at Gucci, making it a sexy and bold; Marc Jacobs begins the long liaison with Louis Vuitton; the hooligan of fashion Alexander McQueen upsets Givenchy poetics; the bizarre and excessive John Galliano is the new interpreter of Christian Dior and finally Martin Margiela from Autumn-Winter 1998/99 until 2003 becomes the new Hermès creative director. This last particular pair, initially ridiculed by the press, gives Margiela a chance to deal with the long tradition of craftsmanship of the French house, experiencing the construction of garments with minimalistic shapes, playing with the lightness of the best high quality materials.
Hermès by Martin Margiela – A/W 1998 – A/W 2002 – A/W 2003 – S/S 2003
 
The new position as creative director at Hermès doesn’t prevent him from carrying out the evolution of MMM: after ten years devoted to the womenswear, Martin Margiela launches the male line in 1998 with the Spring Summer 1999 collection.
S/S 1999 – Debut of the first men’s collection: Oversize G.I.Joe tag; Vintage shoes painted; Dark suit
(Photo: Marina Faust, Ronald Stoops – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
The niche success reached in the 90s by the brand Maison Martin Margiela is a testimony of how luxury customers were not all slaves to the logos or to the celebrity fashion designers. In fact, from the very beginning, Margiela marketing strategy was based on the cult of “impersonality” (the lack of a designer to cheer) and invisibility, so that the only portraits of Martin Margiela are the few photos taken during stolen moments in the backstage of the fashion shows. This philosophy was in sharp contrast with the world of appearance and, thanks to a sort of ironic and pungent snobbery, it ennobled fashion to the level of art, freeing it from the laws of mass market. Just think that MMM boutiques aren’t registered in the telephone directories and don’t have signs. The staff uniforms in the shops and in the offices are white lab coat; all the shops are characterized by white color, as well as the packaging is anonymous and without logo.
Similar devices characterize even the fashion shows: models often have covered face or eyes; the locations are dirty, decaying or abandoned places, in stark contrast to the usual luxury places; there’s no hierarchies for the seats, following the first-come, first-served rule; the interviews are exclusively released by fax using the first plural person to emphasize the sense of collaboration, not focusing on the individual designer, but on the whole Maison Martin Margiela team.
 
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 1999 - Photo Maison Martin MargielaMaison Martin Margiela - A/W 1999 - Photo Maison Martin MargielaMaison Martin Margiela - A/W 1999 - Photo Maison Martin Margiela
A/W 1999 – Video presentation.
Feather duvets covered with vintage bed linen were worn as coats, waistcoats or wraps. The covers were also meant to be worn as dresses without the duvet inside. Funny details: knee-high wool socks were worn over shoes.
S/S 2000 – fitting picture; Chloë Sevigny on Purple Magazine wearing men’s oversized garments
(Photo: Mark Borthwick – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 2000 - Photo Michael Thompson - Styling Grace Coddington
A/W 2000 – Oversized collection. Garments were molded to an Italian size 78 dress form.
(Photo: Michael Thompson – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 2001
S/S 2001 – Photo: cotonblanc
Maison Martin Margiela . A/W 2001 Maison Martin Margiela . A/W 2001 Maison Martin Margiela . A/W 2001
A/W 2001 – Women’s show. The cellar of the Alexander III bridge was arranged in a series of little squares with beaded curtains. Model and assistant running in the “backstage”. (Photo: cotonblanc)
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 2002. Line 10 - Photo Guy Voet - White leather jacket with plain applique logos.
S/S 2002 – White leather jacket with plain applique logos
(Photo: Guy Voet – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 2002 - Photo Jacques Habbah
A/W 2002 – Vintage jeans reworked into classic trousers. The belt and front pockets were transformed, the back pockets removed and classic pockets with flaps were constructed. ( Photo: Jacques Habbah – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)

In 2002 the entrepreneur Renzo Rosso, owner of Diesel brand, buys MMM bringing a series of changes for the label. Despite the collections go on season by season, rumor has it that there is no longer Martin Margiela at the helm of the brand because of the dissenting views on marketing strategies introduced by the new owner.

 

Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 2003 - Photo View on Colour - Silver film applied to a vintage slip.
S/S 2003 – Mask make up; Silver film applied to a vintage slip
(Photo: Ian R. WebbSilver, View on Colour –  mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
A/W 2003 – The models were illuminated by two men bearing panels of six strip-lights.
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 2004 - Photo Horst DiekgerdesMaison Martin Margiela - S/S 2004 - Photo Ola Rindal
S/S 2004 – Photo: Horst Diekgerdes, Ola Rindal – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 2004 - Men’s presentatiion - Photo Jacques HabbahMaison Martin Margiela - A/W 2004 - Photo Sybille Walter & Samuel Drira
A/W 2004 – Men’s presentation
(Photo: Jacques Habbah, Sybille Walter  Samuel Drira – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 2005 - Photo Jacques Habbah
S/S 2005 – (Photo: Jacques Habbah – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 2005 Line 14 - Photo Marina Faust - Reproduction of a doctor’s coat from the 1920s
S/S 2005 – Since 2003 were introduced garments named ‘Replica’, reproductions of archetypal second-hand garments from different style periods. This is the Reproduction of a doctor’s coat from the 1920s. Provenance: France. (Photo: Marina Faust – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 2005 - Photo Marion Poussier
A/W 2005 – Trench evoking the look of someone sheltering from the rain underneath the coat, collar endings at tip of the head. The neck and shoulder lines were elongated so the coat could be worn as a hood. When not worn up, the coat’s collar envelops the shoulders.
(Photo: Marion Poussier – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 2005 - Artisanal Wedding dress
A/W 2005 – item from the Artisanal Production, the reworking of men’s and women’s vintage garments, fabrics and accessories. Three vintage wedding dresses were assembled and sewn onto a brassiere, creating a unique ball gown made of different fabrics.
(Photo: Marina Faust – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
S/S 2006 – Maison Martin Margiela “Artisanal” Exhibition at Galleria Carla Sozzani-Corso Como 10, Milan. Waistcoat made of playing cards which were shuffled and aged by dyeing, fraying, and ironing, then in nappa leather. (Photo: Marina Faust – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
S/S 2006 – Ice cubes jewelry – (Photo: Jonathan Hallam –  mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 2006 - Pitti Uomo Teatro Puccini FirenzeMaison Martin Margiela - A/W 2006 - Pitti Uomo Teatro Puccini Firenze
A/W 2006 – Maison Martin Margiela was the special guest at Pitti Uomo 69 with a presentation at Teatro Puccini in Florence.
(Photo: Pitti Immagine archive – cotonblanc)
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 2007 - Photo Johnny GembitskyMaison Martin Margiela - S/S 2007 - Photo Marina Faust
S/S 2007 – Photo: Johnny Gembitsky, Marina Faust – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - Artisanal A/W 2007 - Jewelry as a dress
Artisanal A/W 2007 – Jewels dress – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 2008 -eyewear collection
S/S 2008 – In-store sales display for the “Incognito” sunglasses. The design for the eyewear was inspired by the appearance of the models in the maison’s lookbooks, where a figure’s identity is rendered anonymous through a black pen stroke across the eyes.
(Photo: Maison Martin Margiela – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 2008 - men's collectionMaison Martin Margiela - S/S 2008 - men's collection
S/S 2008 – menswear collection – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela
Maison Martin Margiela - A/W 2008 black rubber barbedwire waistcoat - Photo Mark SegalMaison Martin Margiela - A/W 2008
 
In a few years the rumours become more and more insistent, until an insider of the company said that since 2007 Martin Margiela had delegated the design of the lines to the various creative teams, following only a few special projects such as the creation of the perfume and the collection for the 20th anniversary. The secret was officially revealed in October 2009 when Renzo Rosso himself confirmed that “Martin has not been there for a long time” and that there is no intention to replace him, focusing on a new young creative team.
Maison Martin Margiela - S/S 2009 disco-mirror tuxedo jacket - Photo Lachlan Bailey
S/S 2009 – Disco-mirror tuxedo jacket
(Photo: Lachlan Bailey – mmm-maisonmartinmargiela)
A/W 2009, S/S 2010, A/W 2010, S/S 2011, A/W 2011, S/S 2012 – style.com
S/S 2010S/S 2011, A/W 2012, S/S 2013 – style.com
It has been a silent exit from the scene, just as his entrance, but we could not expect more from an invisible fashion designer. Currently, the sensitivity of the label is changed, the collections are focused on the surprise effect of the details, turning the archive garments into something more wearable and trendy. There’s a new commercial approach and the last collaboration with H&M (November 2012) is the proof.
Alessandro Masetti  
The Fashion Commentator
 
Photo and web references: 
style.com/ mmm-maisonmartinmargielacotonblancfashionencyclopedia.com/ independent.co.uk/ guardian.co.uk/ nationalpost.com/ jcreprot.com/ hypebeast.com/ amagazinecuratedby.com/ contemporaryfashion.net/ honeyee.com/ nytimes.com/ businessoffashion.com 
Maison Martin Margiela for H&M collection (Nov 2012)

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