Since the late eighties, Maison
Margiela has been a brand on the name of everyone’s lips. Mystery has always
been an element played within Margiela shows, with masked models walking the
runway, but perhaps the biggest mystery behind the brand is its founder, Martin
From the peak of his fame in the late
nineties, and even beyond that, Martin Margiela has remained firmly behind the
curtain, refusing interviews and never willingly revealing his face to the public.
Aside from his obvious creative flair and passion for design, fans of the brand
have never known much about the intriguing designer, until now, that is.
Director Reiner Holzemer has released
a new documentary titled Martin Margiela: In His Own Words revealing Margiela’s
experiences from his time in the fashion world. Those expecting to get a
glimpse of Margiela’s face will sadly be disappointed; the documentary shows
only his hands and footage of the archives and influential work that those
Martin Margiela was born in 1959 in
Limbourg, Belgium. He lived with his mother, who used to enjoy buying
second-hand furniture and remodeling it to create something new. This is
strikingly familiar to Margiela’s process of doing the very same thing with
clothes, upcycling materials and creating something new out of something old.
It feels entirely ahead of its time in today’s era and is an example of exactly
what makes Margiela’s work so special.
In 1980 Margiela attended the Royal
Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. He was said to be the unofficial member of the
famous ‘Antwerp Six’, an avant-garde fashion collective of six designers,
including Dries Van Noten.
After graduation Margiela headed to
one of the world’s major fashion capitals, Paris, to intern for Jean Paul
Gaultier. It has been said that Margiela sat in Gaultier’s waiting room for
three days, before finally being introduced to Gaultier himself. Gaultier later
referred to Margiela as one of his best assistants, saying “I knew he could
do something great, but I didn’t know to which extent.”
Not long after Margiela set up his
label, originally known as ‘Martin Maison Margiela’. As Gaultier’s student, the
two designers did share a common theme in their work: an obsession with the
body. In Gaultier’s designs, this theme was always apparent in the body’s
enhancement, while Margiela’s designs always tend to conceal it, in an aim to
take away its identity.
Margiela’s most memorable and iconic
show was carried out just a year after he started his eponymous label. A
derelict playground on the outskirts of Paris doesn’t exactly sound like the
place where great fashion moments are born, but after originally scouting the
location for a magazine shoot; the local children who played in the area inspired
Margiela. Seating for the show operated on a first-come, first-served basis,
pushing editors and fashion crowd members out of their usual front-row views.
The front row was occupied by the very same children that usually gathered at
the playground, who were sat on the edge of the runway in front of the guests.
From these actions alone it was immediately clear to the fashion crowd that
this young designer was a far cry from anyone who came before him, here to
shake up contemporary fashion.
From the moment the show started, it
was clear that nothing about it would be ordinary, models stumbled their way
across the uneven ground in designs made from papier mache and dry cleaning
bags. The children in the front row were as fascinated by what was happening as
the rest of the crowd, and at some point, they got up and paraded alongside the
The show has never been forgotten in
fashion’s vast history, it’s hard to think of another occasion in that time
where the tone has been set so firmly for fashion as a public spectacle. For
iconic designer Raf Simons, this was the first fashion show he ever attended as
a young designer, it has been said that this is the show that made him decide
on a career in making clothes, once and for all.
Margiela’s success only grew after
1989, showing that he was more than just a one-hit-wonder. All the while as his
designs spoke louder, the designer remained silent. In 2008, Margiela directed
his last runway show for the label. Naturally, the official announcement of
this came much later, with fans of his work left heartbroken and confused at
At the time, many people believed that
the designer had simply said everything that he had needed to say, without
speaking. Since then we have a little further insight into what may have been
behind his disappearance.
Last year, the Belgian Fashion Awards
awarded Margiela with its Jury Prize, honouring his entire career and obvious
impact on the history of fashion. Margiela didn’t turn up on the evening to
claim his award, but he did make an accepting statement.
Published by Dazed, the statement
suggests that Margiela may not have liked the changes he was seeing in the
industry at the time: “A beautiful tribute to a period of hard work and
dedication starting at early age and lasting for more than 30 years, until 2008—the
very year I felt that I could not cope anymore with the worldwide increasing
pressure and the overgrowing demands of trade. I also regretted the overdose of
information carried by social media, destroying the ‘thrill of wait’ and
cancelling every effect of surprise, so fundamental for me.”
It comes as no surprise that an icon
so dependent on being private felt that he could not continue his work in a
world of social media where there is almost no privacy.
Today, the label lives on and continues to inspire young talent, under the creative direction of John Galliano. “In His Own Words” offers a small window into the mystery, but it’s clear that we still may never know who the elusive figure really is. And that’s how it should be. Truly great work speaks volumes over any voice, and Martin Margiela’s work never stops talking.
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