It was 1988 when the fashion industry saw a group of brilliant, subversive young minds from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts invade Paris Fashion Week's schedule. They were dubbed the Antwerp Six, and one of them was Martin Margiela.
He was fiercely taciturn. He never took a bow at the end of his shows, citing the efforts of an entire creative team, and never quite allowed press enquiries. He refused to align with the conventional fashion system and made clothes that were worthy of being questioned, 'Is this clothing?'. He's been consequently credited with inventing the avant-garde genre in fashion.
He sewed bridal gowns over bridal gowns, picked up vintage pieces from antique markets, remade them and sold them as couture. He made dresses from plastic dust bags. He sold heeled soles with rolls of clear scotch tape, requiring wearers to tape these soles to their feet. His prowess was found in pattern cutting. The late Alexander McQueen once lauded, "He thinks about everything, the cuff of a jacket, the construction of an armhole, the height of a shoulder. I think it's very much about [the] cut, proportion and shape, the simplicity of it, the pared down-ness of it."
He refused to please the haughty fashion industry, and stood by his creative intentions. You would have read, that in 1990 he famously brought the fashion pack to a dilapidated children's playground in the peripheries of Paris, where children ran alongside models on the runway. In 1992 he took his runway show to a Parisian Metro station, Saint-Martin, otherwise deserted for 63 years. In 1996 he made the most illustrious of fashion editors and buyers drink red wine from disposable plastic cups. In 1997 he took the runway to the outdoor public square of Place de la République.
The first mailer prior to the documentary's launch reveals snippets of Martin Margiela's creative activities.
All these shot him to critical acclaim. He co-founded the brand with Jenny Meirens, which remained autonomous until 2002 when a majority stake was sold to the Italian OTB Group. Margiela reportedly looked for a successor in 2007, nominated Raf Simons who rejected the role. Margiela silently left his eponymous brand in 2009, leaving no traces behind but an obscure name that remains till date. The fashion world went into a frenzied search for this man. Eight years on, the search hasn't ceased. 'Where is Martin Margiela?', the press questioned. W Magazine revealed this January that he will be contributing to his own retrospective exhibition at the Palais Galliera.
Other than a recent exposé by co-founder Meirens to Susannah Frankel in February, Margiela's creative and financial processes remain a mystery. This enigma, however, will unravel soon in the year ahead.
Carefully christened 'We Margiela' – a cue to the brand's collective anonymous identity – the documentary uncovers creative philosophies, an intuitive working culture, alongside a financial saga that led to the autonomous company's sale in 2002, and co-founders Martin Margiela and Jenny Meiners' departure. The documentary's dedicated site notes that "Meirens and Margiela are no longer in contact with each other."
Parts of the second mailer. From top left clockwise: Interior designer Eduardo Dente painting a denim dress white amongst bags of second-hand duvet, a Martin Margiela logo envelope, an intern's daily report, a sturdy grey coat, and a transcript.
In lieu of the launch, the designated film office sent out 999 numbered copies of three collectable (as with all Margiela merchandise) sneak peeks into the documentary. While there are no hints at the financial struggles that went on behind the scenes, the three mailers revealed snippets of creative activities and philosophy at Maison Martin Margiela.
The brown hard-backed envelopes were sent from Mint Film's office in Rotterdam. The first instalment exposes how Martin Margiela himself had "some pairs [of Tabi boots], and he used them over and over again for shows and shoots." A print picture of a sweater supposedly from the Fall 1990 collection came with a backstory about how "Margiela put his mother to work to help knit these sweaters."
The second mailer interestingly had an intern's daily report from Madeleine Berkhemer. She mentioned that Maison Martin Margiela was the coveted apprenticeship for art students, and how she hilariously, "secretly took some" white labels with her while sewing them by hand to garments.
Third and final mailer. From left clockwise: A linen Stockman bare-back gilet, Tabi soles, Cafe de la Gare, a balloon-filled Fall 1995 showroom in Paris, transcript.
The third and final mailer consists of a printed image from Meirens of the Cafe de la Gare, photographed by Martin Margiela himself.
While the documentary will unveil heavy curtains into said fashion house, and impart creative processes for study, it remains an alarming departure from Maison Martin Margiela's reticent personality. It perhaps, unfortunately, mirrors the dilution of the MMM brand identity over the past decade. It will too, perhaps, bring closure to a riveting chapter in fashion history.
Visit We Margiela's dedicated site here.
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