Running in Somerset House, London at the moment is a unique exhibition covering fashion house, Maison Martin Margiela over the last 20 years. It runs until September 5th and if you are in London, you should definitely check it out. I attended earlier this month and didn’t really know what to expect on arrival – leaving however, I had learned a lot about one of the most anonymous yet established brands in the fashion world.
*Photos weren’t allowed so excuse the quality of our illegal snaps!*
A little background: Martin Margiela is a Belgian fashion designer & stylist who studied at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Before setting up his own fashion house in Paris in 1988, he worked for Jean Paul Gaultier. Notoriously ‘anonymous’, Margiela has not been photographed since very early in his career, and rarely gives interviews. Instead, when interviews are given, they are given in the name of the Maison as a whole. Margiela felt that by withdrawing as a public figure, his fashion would do the talking. Equally as unique is the fact that all media contact with the company is done via fax! Employees wear white coats when serving the public and models are also made anonymous by having their faces covered. The Maison’s stores and offices are always in discreet locations, away from the usual shopping streets, with no obvious signs or logos, and rarely with a window display of actual clothes.
The style of the Maison: Maison Martin Margiela is best known for its tastes for ‘transgression‘ and ‘deconstruction‘. Other terms used to describe the brand are ‘underground‘, ‘grunge‘, ‘minimalist‘ and ‘provocative‘. The use of the shoulder has been a trend carried through since the start of the brand, with the most iconic look being that of a 1980’s narrow jacket with puffed sleeves mounted high on the shoulders. Trompe l’oeil effects are used not only in the clothing but in the photography, offices and stores. Paint, and the covering of materials and garments with paint is a well know trait of the Maison, which according to the exhibition “highlights the process of ageing while simultaneously ensuring that each piece retains a certain degree of specificity“. Re-using and re-working second-hand clothing into new clothes is another key element of the Maison, who have given us that look of tattered and worn even though the piece is brand new.
The exhibition: The Maison celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2008 and celebrated with an exhibition in the Fashion Museum in Antwerp. Following a 6 month stint there it moved onto the Haus der Kunst in Munich before making its way to London. According to the PR, it explores “the themes that have underpinned the ethos of the fashion house“, “capturing the Maison’s unique aesthetic and vision“. There are various iconic pieces from the collections, both womenswear and menswear, including the infamous ‘Tabi’ boots. I found the various invitations to the fashion shows very creative and unique but didn’t manage to get a photo…There is also a very interesting section on the offices and shops and how they look inside.
The label: Maison Martin Margiela has 12 collections that are simply labelled with a circled number on a label. However the main collection uses a plain white label with no writing, which is sewn into the items of clothing by hand with four white stitches. These marks are visible on the outside of the garment and to the outsider, appear as mistakes in manufacturing. However for the in-crowd these stitches are instantly recognisable!
And now?: Margiela’s brand was acquired by the Diesel brand in 2002 and according to many, signalled the end of Martin Margiela’s tenure at the helm of the Maison. In October, 2009, a majority stakeholder announced: “Martin has not been there for a long time. He is here but not here. We have a new fresh design team on board. We are focusing on young, realistic energy for the future; this is really Margiela for the year 2015“. Later that year, a press release announced that Margiela “has left the business. No replacement creative director will be appointed. Maison Martin Margiela will continue trading but the company declined to comment on the reasons for Margiela’s exit“.
Wanna know more: If you want to see what Mr Margiela looks like and read a little more about him and the Maison, there is a great article from the New York Times (Oct’08) here.