5 ways Margiela changed fashion

2017-01-11 17:58:00

There is a lot to be said for saying little. The most anticipated album release of 2016, Frank Ocean’s Blond, came on the back of close to four years of radio silence. While most figures in popular culture (from music through to fashion) take full advantage of the stream-of-consciousness opportunities provided by social media (Hi Donald), turning your back on Twitter, Instagram, blogs and press can be a drastically effective way of commanding attention. But then snubbing the media is nothing new: another man who has long perfected the art of anonymity is fashion designer Martin Margiela, who launched his eponymous label in 1988.

Maison Margiela has been one of contemporary fashion’s most influential houses of the past three decades, all whilst remaining painstakingly aloof. Interviews with the label’s founder are practically non-existent, as are any photos of him, and interviews with Maison Margiela’s current creative director, John Galliano, are equally as scarce.

The label’s silence forces us to properly examine its work in search of deeper meaning or cultural context. The clothes speak for themselves. And in doing so, have affected fashion more than any brand ambassador, spokesperson or PR team ever could.

Here we look at 5 ways Margiela changed fashion…

Margiela Pioneered Upcycled Clothes

2016 was awash with garments that have been revitalised, reconstructed and rebuilt. Buzzy ‘it’ label Vetements released a series of spliced Levi’s jeans, Marques'Almeida drew from a similar aesthetic for AW16, and Japanese label Needles continues to take old flannel shirts and breathe new life into them.

But this trend is not necessarily a novel conceptnaturally, Martin Margiela had already done it. The designer regularly repurposed old garments, such as leather butcher’s aprons and antique wedding dresses, to create something striking and new, often for his aptly titled Artisanal line. Trust us, you’ll be impressed by the the number of pieces he crafted from pairs of old ski gloves.


Martin Margiela 2001 RTWMartin Margiela Fall 2001 RTW

Margiela Defined the Style of 2016

There was no label more fetishised, chastised, and dissected in the past twelve months than Parisian-collective Vetements. Helmed by Demna Gvasalia, who launched the project whilst working as a designer at Maison Margiela, the brand’s aesthetic is heavily influenced by the early work of his former employer. Even the part-utilitarian, part-ironic name of Vetements comes from the same mind-set that sees Margiela label all of their product categories by number.

The broad shoulders of Gvasalia’s first Balenciaga collection and much of his Vetements output (see the over-the-knee boots and hyper-oversized outerwear) are reminiscent of turn-of-the-millennium Margiela. And if you thought Vetements’ appropriation of vintage rock t-shirts was a novel concept, take a look at Maison Margiela’s Fall 2001 collection (above). Elsewhere in 2016at J.W. Anderson, Celine and Raf Simonsseveral Margiela motifs were apparent.

Margiela Made Raf Simons Fall in Love with Fashion

Raf Simons is, without question, one of the greatest menswear designers of the modern era, but it wasn’t until the Belgian attended his compatriot’s 1990 Spring / Summer show that he even considered fashion as a pursuit he might enjoy: “I always thought fashion was a bit superficial, but this show changed everything for me,” he told The Gentlewoman in 2016.

Staged at a children’s playground in a North African neighbourhood situated in the suburbs of Paris, the show was unlike anything any fashion week had seen before. With everyone packed into an erected tent and no seating plan, local kids jostled for position with renowned fashion editors and industry figures. Margiela sent a series of arresting looks down the runway, heavily utilising transparent plastic and reimagining everyday items such as shopping bags. Within minutes, the local kids had joined in and started walking alongside the models. “I walked out of it and I thought: That’s what I’m going to do,” said Simons. “That show is the reason I became a fashion designer.”

MARTIN-MARGIELA-SPRING-1998-RTWMartin Margiela Spring 1998 RTW

Margiela Railed Against The Notion of Supermodels

The concept of anonymity doesn’t stop at the house’s founder, but courses throughout the company in all its work: following Martin Margiela’s departure after 20 years, collections were designed by a team of faceless designers.

This concept also extended to the brand’s runway presentations: models' faces were often obscured in some way by masks, elaborate hairstyles or make-up. The most extreme example of this was Margiela’s 1998 Spring / Summer collection, which was presented on hangers by an army of men in white lab coats. (These coats are the signature look of all Margiela employees inside their Parisian headquarters). It left the audience in no doubt about what was really importantnot celebrity endorsements or big name models, but the clothes themselves.

Margiela Gave a Platform To A Design Genius

To say that Martin Margiela was a hard act to follow is perhaps a gross understatement. Raf Simons refused and Haider Ackermann later declined tooboth felt the role was a near impossible task such was the minimal magnificence of their would-be predecessor. Instead, after years spent in fashion exile, it was John Galliano that would take on the mantle of creative director of Margiela.

Galliano’s exuberant style may initially have seemed to be at odds with the understatedness of his new house, but the Englishman has quickly shown he is adept at respecting the brand’s DNA whilst conjuring up the magic that he was previously known for. In essence, Maison Margiela provided a platform for a design great to once again shine. 

“He came to tea,” Galliano told The Sunday Times earlier this year on meeting Martin Margiela for the first time since his appointment. At the end of the evening the brand’s founder apparently said, “John, take what you will from the DNA of the house, protect yourself and then make it your own.” 

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