Maison Martin Margiela's Fashion Evolution
Oversized, out of proportion jackets. Huge buttons as if a doll’s dress had been enlarged, inside-out seams, masked models stalking the catwalks in nylon bodystockings and back to front wigs, plain calico and canvas fabrics – Martin Margiela’s clothes make him the king of conceptualism. But his backstory is at least as intriguing.
The Belgium designer, thanks to his training, was part of the legendary fashion collective Antwerp Six, along with people like Ann Demeulemeester and Dries van Noten. Martin Margiela set up his business as a kind of mysterious cabal or collective, under the heading Maison Martin Margiela, eschewing any possibility of the cult of the fashion designer personality, creating in its place, just as strong fanbase. Over the Nineties this label found itself not only popular with conceptual connoisseurs; Margiela’s core of customers and collectors, but with cheaper brands and the High Street as many of his ideas slowly filtered down – if you own a shirt or dress that is deconstructed in style, with the seams on the outside or unfinished, you can thank Margiela for the idea, likewise the style of trompe-l’oeil clothes with pictures of other garments printed on them.
Not only did Margiela design weird clothes from scratch, the label often fashioned garments from junk or ‘found objects’ The stand-alone shops across Europe are like strange art-galleries-come-laboratories. Regarded as the most innovative designer of his generation, he was also the most mysterious. Refusing to take a bow after catwalk shows, ever be photographed or take part in interviews, other than by fax – earned him the sobriquet ‘fashion’s invisible man’. His ideas were so striking and so different to anything else around that Marc Jacobs once entered into a protracted argument via the press over the journalist suggesting Jacobs was copying Margiela (Jacobs admitted he was a big ‘inspiration’).
The mystery has never been publically solved. In 2002 Renzo Rosso, the Italian jeans tycoon and founder of Diesel, bought a majority share of the company, despite the fact the brand had always been a commercial success. It wasn’t until 2009 that it was acknowledged publically that Margiela himself was no longer designing the collections, although it was never pinpointed at which stage he had left the company. It is understood that some original members of the team are still designing behind the scenes. In 2008, on the 20th anniversary of the launch of the brand, a retrospective exhibition was held, which subsequently travelled to the London. One of the most engaging fashion exhibitions ever, it was organized by theme and transported the viewer into a strange other world, with the garments looking more at home and more in a gallery than most, as many of the runway samples are, arguably, works of art in themselves.
The next big thing in the Margiela timeline, is of course the H&M collaboration. Once again, fashion lovers wonder how the retail giants will re-create what makes the high-end designer brand special, but it’s expected the fans will go mad to get their hands on the merchandise.