In 2001, renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz came to Paris on a commission for American Vogue. She had to do a portrait of the iconic fashion designer Martin Margiela. Her house staff, all in snow-white lab coats, greeted her warmly. We walk through an old mansion. They briefly talked about what they are preparing now, what they are working on. They were taken to the holy of holies, workshops where the unusual ideas of the designer came to life. They showed Monsieur Margiela’s office and his assistants.
It’s time to start the photo session. But Monsieur was nowhere to be found. When asked where he was, the employees only shrugged sheepishly and offered to take a photo shoot. in the garden. Fifty chairs were quickly brought out and quickly seated. Center seats were taken by Jenny Meirens, Margiela’s business partner, and Patrick Scallon, head of the public relations department. Everything was finally ready to shoot. But Margiela’s chair was empty. “This is the wish of our boss and the house,” Leibovitz explained. The desire of a cult fashion designer is the law. Nothing to do. Annie focused the camera and pressed the shutter. It was the most unusual “portrait” in her long photographic career.
The most conceptual among the Belgians is Margiela. From the first collection until his retirement from fashion in 2009, he created true works of art, confident that fashion should not be run by advertisers, buyers and buyers. Fashion is not a business, but above all an author’s statement, a concept that, however, can become a commercially successful project. The fashion designer is not a pop icon. He is the creator, the demiurge, and therefore must remain in the shadows, let his works speak for him. The models are not stars. They just wear things during shows, giving them the necessary volume and shape. And that means that the main thing is the things themselves, and not the fashion models. And that means that the latter can be depersonalized or abandoned altogether, since conceptual things are good in themselves.
Margiela began with the simple and the visible, with the materials. In 1988, when she had just founded her house and was preparing her first collection, gold, metallics, oriental brocades, expensive Italian silks, velvet with intricate hand embroidery, exotic leather, and precious furs reigned supreme on the catwalks. Glamor and shameless luxury ruled the ball. Challenging this, Margiela created the first collection literally out of trash. Together with her assistants, she collected fragments of earthenware plates and turned them into blouses and vests. Each item was unique. Before creating it, Margiela’s team selected the most suitable fragments from a pile of broken dishes and carefully connected them with steel wire. It turned out completely unusual, spectacular and, what is especially valuable, unique things that could easily be mistaken for art objects. In the same debut collection of hers, Margiela featured T-shirts made from pieces of plastic shopping bags connected with brown tape. It turned out bright, witty, rude, that is, absolutely in defiance of the glamorous luxury fashion.
The designer was constant in all his actions. While he canceled the cult of supermodels, he simultaneously combated the cult of supermodels. This phenomenon also arose in the 1980s, and in the 1990s it became the general rule for many couturiers. Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani, Karl Lagerfeld, Jean-Paul Gaultier, John Galliano were real pop stars. Their personal lives were watched even more closely than their work. Many liked it; after all, the creator’s cult status increases the sales of his collections. But Margiela didn’t want to become a pop star. “Be interested in what I do, not in what I am,” she seemed to tell the audience, as she expected her appearance at the end of the show. Margiela never came out to curtsy.
He did not attend secular parties. He did not pose for photojournalists. He hardly gave interviews; he made an exception for select friendly journalists, but answered questions only by fax. Nobody saw him anywhere. There was even a rumor that Martin Margiela does not exist, that he is a fiction, a fictional character, and that in reality a whole group of employees works for him, and conceptually cutting-edge things are the result of collective work. And even this ridiculous rumor the designer was in no hurry to dispel. As a result, struggling with the cult of supermodels, Margiela itself became a mega-cult. The anonymity of him bribed many, caused great interest in him and what he was doing. Many have searched the complex and mysterious collections for clues to Margiela’s personal secrets. Until the late 2000s, hardly anyone knew what he looked like. And only recently the portraits of him began to appear in the press and documentaries. Martin Margiela turned out to be a real person, quite likeable.
In his experiments, as we remember, the designer often started from the opposite, creating collections that challenged what was considered fashionable in the 80s and 90s. So, in addition to the cult of supermodels and supermodels, there was also the cult of women. superbrands. Logomania flourished. From the bright and prominent logos of the prestigious fashion houses, they learned about the financial status of its user. In the era of yuppies, daring young businessmen, in the era of rapidly developing and growing international companies, the correct and expensive appearance has become the key to career success. Entrepreneurs communicated with logos. Fashion designers, realizing this, came up with spectacular labels and placed them in the most conspicuous places on clothes, shoes and accessories. This is how a trend called logomania or marcamanía arose. Margiela was against it. Things should speak for themselves. The important thing is not who made them, but what idea the garment itself carries. What is important is not its price, but its value, not the external effect, but the concept. And the designer made anti-vultures. At first, these were ordinary cuts of white fabric, sewn to the clothes with four thick white stitches. In 1997, they were replaced by white vultures with numbers printed on them, from 0 to 23. One of the numbers was circled in black, in accordance with the line to which the thing belonged. Thus, the number “1” in a circle meant a women’s collection, “6” – a diffuse clothing line at affordable prices, “10” – a men’s collection. In 1988, when choosing a color for her anti-vulture, Margiela opted for white. The latter symbolized the rejection of authorship and the withdrawal to anonymity, the total freedom of expression, the commitment to conceptualism and the will to go against the kitsch, extravagant and pop fashion of the eighties. Over time, white has become a symbol of the Margiela brand, the philosophy of her work and a perfectly recognizable brand. All the employees of her fashion house still wear white coats. The interiors are designed in this color. And in the same color the Maison Margiela boutiques are resolved. White is present in all of Margiela’s collections and now dominates the exhibitions dedicated to the master’s work.