Yesterday, a statement from Maison Martin Margiela finally ended months of speculation about when or if the label’s elusive designer Martin Margiela had left his own fashion house.
And the answer is 'yes and no' – as you would expect from the mysterious designer whose face is unknown to his fans, refuses to do interviews or bow at his shows, and communicates with the media only by fax, and whose clothing labels are white and black.
Margiela had still been at Maison Margiela but, at his request, had taken several months off to reflect on his future, according to Giovanni Pungetti, the chief executive officer of Maison Martin Margiela. A state that fitted perfectly with his low-profile limelight-shunning sensibilities, and which finally makes sense of Margiela majority stakeholder Renzo Rosso’s ambiguous statement last month that 'Martin has not been there for a long time. He is here but not here. We have a new fresh design team on board.'
And the decision Margiela came to during his sabbatical will surprise some and disappoint many; the Belgian is set to retire from fashion for good. Pungetti declined to comment on the reasons for the designer’s exit, characterizing them as personal, but stressed that the parting was amicable. Typically, Margiela himself issued no statement. He is understood to have recently started painting, and is thought to want to redirect his creative energies into art, perhaps a natural progression for a designer with such obvious surrealist tastes.
Margiela is revered by many in the fashion industry as the ultimate avant-gardist, introducing cleft-toed boots, deconstructed fashions (with seaming unfinished and on the outside of garments), and exaggerated proportions such as overlong sleeves. Marc Jacobs once claimed, 'Everyone is influenced by Comme des Garçons and by Martin Margiela. Anybody who's aware of what life is in a contemporary world is influenced by those designers.'
Margiela seems to have left a legacy that has weighed heavily on Rosso (who also owns Diesel), since he bought a majority stake in the house in 2002.
Yesterday’s statement had one clear aim: Pungetti said he hoped that clarifying Margiela’s exit would encourage critics to 'evaluate the collection and not focus on who has designed this'. The MMM’s recently shown spring ’10 collection was been panned by critics.
Clearly Margiela will be a tough, if not impossible, act to follow. It is already known that the company had approached two other Belgians designers, first Raf Simons and then Haider Ackermann, to succeed him. But yesterday, the Paris-based fashion house confirmed that no successor would be named: 'We want to stay avant-garde, and provocative, but without a new creative director,' said Pungetti. 'It’s a challenge. We know this. We will probably make mistakes, but the most important thing is to learn from them.'
In theory, this is business as usual at the house of one of fashion’s more self-effacing designers. 'We came to the conclusion that we didn’t want to substitute [Martin], not because he is irreplaceable, but because we are the Maison Martin Margiela,' Pungetti said. 'He always liked to say to his design team, "You are more Margiela than me."'
But it seems there is already a new creative talent waiting in the wings. Pungetti said the team, which consists of about 25 people and is continually refreshed, would be lead by Margiela’s 'right hand' for the past 19 years. Whether or not this designer is as desperate for anonymity as Margiela remains to be seen. Naturally, the fashion industry will be hungry to find out more about who this is, despite Pungetti’s plea for 'no big names, please'.
The company now intends to extend into interior design – it will soon be unveiling a new spa suite at Les Sources de Caudalie 'vino therapy' spa near Bordeaux, France. Hotel and private home design commissions are expected to follow.
Martin Margiela’s final project for the house is thought to be Maison Martin Margiela’s first fragrance, under license with beauty giant L’Oréal, which is due to be go on sale in February.