A French haute couture house established almost three decades ago, still manages to build an air of mystery before its every collection. Known best for combining conceptualism, art, mystery and modern elegance, the house of Maison Margiela is a modern-day couture house marvel.
Martin Margiela, the mason’s founder was born on April 9 1957 in Genk, Belgium. Martin Margiela graduated in fashion design in the year 1979 from Antwerp Royal Academy in Belgium. Due to his avant-garde approach, he is often seen as the adopted member of the ‘Antwerp Six’- one of the most renowned avant-garde fashion collective from Belgium. However, the collective was formed a year after he graduated.
The fashion house’s co-founder was Jenny Meirens, whose achievements included opening the first Commes des Garcons store in Belgium. She was the business master-mind behind the house of Mason Margiela.
Martin Margiela showed his collection for the first time in 1983 in Jenny Meirens’ pioneering Brussels store Crea. The Tabi Boots, inspired by the Japanese working men’s shoes were introduced in 1984 in the Coccodrillo store owned by Geert Bruloot and Eddy Michiels. Rei Kawakubo had also shown her initial support by ordering a pair from Jenny Meirens’ store. The same year Martin Margiela moved to Paris and started working as Jean Paul Gaultier’s design assistant.
Margiela left his job as design team lead at Jean Paul Gaultier in 1988 and together with Jenny Meirens founded his eponymous label, Maison Martin Margiela. Initially working out of a Paris apartment, they opened their first store in an unmarked white space in Paris, also opening a small studio on 12 Leopoldstraat in Antwerp. The blank white label is adopted around this time. Each garment is marked with a completely white label, secured with four stitches, which can easily be cut or removed to make it anonymous.
The first collection is shown to the public for Autumn/Winter 1989. The initial financial constraints and a dire need for independence required an agile vision and creative thinking in order to succeed. One such example was, for the Autumn/Winter 1989 show, Jenny Meirens placed a classified advert that included the date, time and address in a free newspaper. The Margiela team then collected hundreds of copies and circled the ad in red and posted it out to the industry.
Patrick Scallon became the head of communication for the label in 1993. He was one of the main characters to be behind the house’s ‘first come first-served fashion shows’ idea, where there was no seating plan and not much advertising was done for any of their shows; such that they didn’t even make extra efforts for the important fashion editors of the time.
The house introduced the Fall/Winter collection for the year 1994 and to everybody’s amusement, it was known as the ‘Barbie’ collection. The ‘Barbie’ Fall/Winter 1994 collection introduced the concept of “Replica”, reproducing and enlarging doll’s clothes to adapt them to the human figure. Since 1994, clothes and accessories collected all over the world continue to be reproduced and integrated into seasonal collections as part of the “Replica” concept. The same year the AIDS charity t-shirt was created with the words: “THERE IS MORE ACTION TO BE DONE TO FIGHT AIDS THAN TO WEAR THIS T-SHIRT BUT IT’S A GOOD START”. A percentage of sales was donated to the French association “AIDES”.
The house have always produced designs and concepts that were ahead of its time. The Spring 1995 collection was presented with a twist. The models were sat amid the audience in the theatre that housed the show, until a bell rang and then they all lined up across the stage to take their turn in the spotlight. To the symbolic white label of the Maison, a new one was added in 1997 with numbers written in black ranging from 0-23, in which the circled figure indicated the line to which the garment belonged. Around this time, the contemporary line was launched, referred to as MM6. The first collection of Maison Martin Margiela was introduced in 1998. Line 10, men’s collection made its debut with the Spring/Summer 1999 season. Line 14 ‘Wardrobe Man’ completed Line 10 with classic and functional garments. Called “Collection Plate”, the Spring-Summer 1998 women’s collection explored geometry and shapes through careful tailoring and ingenious closures, which allowed each garment to open and flatten completely when not worn.
The first Maison Margiela boutique opened in Tokyo, in the Ebisu district in the year 2000. The boutique is located in a former industrial plant where the control units and control systems are preserved as design elements. The “Oversize Collection”, composed of clothes with enlarged and exaggerated dimensions was presented for the Autumn-Winter 2000 season. Each garment of the collection is modeled on an Italian size 78. The house’s most street-influenced collection came in 2001. And for the Fall 2001 show, Margiela chose a location a location in a tunnel under Paris’s Pont Alexandre III with models wearing rock tees, thigh-high boots, silken men’s robes, and fringed dresses.
After going public in 2002, the majority of Maison Martin Margiela’s shares were purchased by the OTB Group, a holding company led by Renzo Rosso, also owner of the Italian fashion label Diesel. This was a transitional period for the Maison. From then on the label was known as ‘Maison Margiela’. The house’s co-founder Jenny Meirens retired from the company in 2003.
Margiela in March 2006, presented a critically acclaimed collection where perfectly tailored trouser suits were made from seventies upholstery fabrics and car seatbelts were used to draw in silhouettes. The house’s work with unconventional materials is renowned and the presentation methods have been equally brilliant, as one show challenged editors and buyers to seat themselves according to their perceived importance, while another saw models wheeled out on trolleys. The Chambre Syndicale invited Maison Margiela to show their first haute couture collection on the official Paris schedule in May 2006, an acknowledgement of true excellence and craftsmanship.2o a retrospective of the Maison’s work opened at the Fashion Museum Province of Antwerp in 2008.
It was announced in October 2009 that Margiela had resigned from his position as creative director of the Maison. In the months that followed the question of who could replace Margiela became a hot topic, with Raf Simons and Haider Ackermann reportedly turning down offers to become the successor. It was confirmed in December 2009 that no successor would be appointed Maison Margiela. A new anonymous design team was brought in and, while every competing company has a famous face at the helm, the collective ‘Maison’ has developed its own counter-personality working together ever since. The same year the House’s retrospective book was published, edited by Rizzoli.
The house’s first perfume was launched in the year 2010 in the Line 3- Fragrance collection. The collective Maison turned their hands to interior design in July 2011, fitting a series of concept hotel suites at La Maison Champs Elysées in Paris. This project marked the launch of the line 13- Objects & Publications, Maison Margiela’s collection of interior design pieces. Maison Margiela then announced their first ever high street collaboration with H&M. The capsule collection hitting stores on November 15, featured archive Margiela pieces revised for the high street. In a typically abstract move, the announcement was made in the form of an anonymous CV, with two short film clips later being released.
The Fall 2012 couture collection was the house’s special ‘Artisanal’ collection which was founded on one of Margiela’s signature fixations: reclaiming vintage clothes, accessories and other objects and reworking them by hand into new pieces. This collection was a 15-look collection. The raw cotton sleeveless jacket that opened the show was modelled after a 1905 tailcoat, its closure a crystal doorknob found in New York City. An antique silk gown beaded in an Art Nouveau motif was transformed into a long, quilted bomber jacket. And a bolero and vest constructed from vintage baseball gloves and a coat made from a windsurfing sail added a surreal touch.
Maison Margiela ready-to-wear for Fall 2013 started with Nick Cave’s song from Lawless, “Fire in the blood/Snake song”. The collection showcased, workwear, uniforms and other masculine silhouettes. On the other hand, for ready-to-wear Fall 2014 collection, the team took up British tweeds, filtering the codes of the male wardrobe through more feminine fare. The same year, it was announced that John Galliano will become the next creative director of the Maison. John Galliano’s first collection for Maison Margiela was presented for Spring/Summer couture 2015.
The Fall couture collection of 2016 was the ‘Artisanal’ collection by Galliano. Galliano’s collection mixed up fragments of technical urban streetwear with references to French revolutionary times, including a swaggering military greatcoat and a tricorne hat, worn at a jaunty angle, which might almost have been purloined from Napoleon’s own wardrobe. The 5AC handbag was launched as part of the Line 11. Its name is derived from the French word ‘Sac’, meaning ‘Bag’, encoded using vintage Internet ‘133t’ speak. The lining of the 5AC can be pulled outward to expose an otherwise typically anonymous element. The 2017 Fall couture collection was showcased at the Maison’s design headquarters. For the intimate Margiela Artisanal presentation, guests were arranged to face the studio windows that open onto views of the Church of Saint Joseph des Nations.
Margiela’s collection of Spring couture 2018 was presented earlier this year. The Maison Margiela Artisanal show the phone-camera/social-media phenomenon quite literally. As Galliano’s collection walked, audience members were asked to turn their cameras to flash—each capturing their own images of fabrics as they strobed and refracted into high-tech prismatic rainbows as they moved. Speed, technology, and the fast-forwarding fractured chaos of modern consciousness were the subtexts of this couture collection.
Masculine and feminine at the same time, and often tending to the fusion of the two genres, the Maison promotes a cerebral approach to the deconstruction, reinterpretation and redefinition of the silhouettes. The three main elements of a Margiela garment are:
Deconstruction: When he started working in early 1980, Martin Margiela went against everything that was considered traditional couture. Inspired by his mother’s deconstruction and reconstruction of furniture, Margiela’s designs often revealed the structure of the garments, intentionally exposing the linings and seams.
Oversized and Androgynous: Many Margiela designs give the impression of being ill fitted — the clothes are rarely made to fit a model’s measurements, opting instead for the XXL alternative. His clothes were more often inspired by the rules of architecture and sculpture than by classic tailoring. The avant-garde silhouettes allowed for the clothes to be gender fluid, an aesthetic that has influenced a younger generation of designers and has permeated right through to contemporary street style.
Strange Materials: Martin Margiela was renowned for using unorthodox materials. Over the years, his eclectic mediums have included car seat belts, wigs, baseball gloves and doorknobs. The designer took the same daring and progressive approach to his fashion shows, with models often wearing masks or blindfolds so that attention was focused purely on their clothes.
Somerset House London held an exhibition in 2010 from June 3rd to September 5th, initiated by MoMu Antwerp. Maison Martin Margiela ‘20’ exhibition was curated by MMM and scenographer Bob Verhelst.
Relish Store held an exhibition (Tabi Shoe Maker) at Washington in 2014.
MoMu (ModeMuseum) Antwerp held an exhibition- Footprint: the track of shoes in fashion, curated by Geert Brulot from 3rd September 2015 to 14th February 2016.
Margiela, The Hermes Years held at MoMu, Antwerp in 2017 from March 31st to Aug 27th curated by Kaat Debo.
WE Margiela Documentary by Mint Film Office Amsterdam was released in 2017.
Margiela/Galliera 1989-2009 held at Palais Galliera, Paris on 3rd March 2018 to 15th July 2018 is curated by Alexandre Samson and Martin Margiela.
Since 2014, John Galliano remains the couture house’s creative director. John Galliano’s first menswear collection or Maison Margiela was presented in January of this year. The show opened with a red and black double-breasted overcoat worn with black, spongy slippers. It closed with a white shredded mackintosh over beige muslin underpants. In between, there were plastic sandals which clonked along the catwalk like ski boots, and several of Margiela’s famous split-toed high-heeled Tabi boots and a bright yellow padded jacket, blown up like a pufferfish, paired with a sober midi-length skirt.
The most recent collection of Fall 2018, for the ready-to-wear collection comprised of a lot of layers, that only Galliano could dream. The collection showed an extra-ordinary appeal for duvet-sleeve, vast padded cagoules to regular coats, and a lot of damp-repelling polyurethane.
The story of Martin Margiela will be traced in “Without Compromise,” a new feature doc that is being made with the cooperation of the influential Belgian fashion designer. Margiela changed the fashion world. He was part of the avante-garde Antwerp movement and founded the Maison Margiela fashion house. Film-meets-fashion project “Without Compromise” is in production for a 2019 release. It will be the first doc on the complete career of Margiela, a man so elusive and private that no official photograph has ever been released and who has been dubbed “the fashion world’s answer to Banksy.” The feature comes from Reiner Holzemer, whose previous work includes “Dries,” the film about designer Dries Van Noten. That was sold by Dogwoof, which has also boarded “Without Compromise.” It will present the project to buyers at Cannes.