photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
with DECONSTRUCTIVIST fashion designers like REI KAWAKUBO (COMMES DE GARCON), YOHJI YAMAMOTA (Y-3) and the late VIRGIL ABLOH (OFF-WHITE) being the current exalted avatars of a distinctly MINIMALIST AESTHETIC, the timing seems correct to reappraise the lasting and continuing cultural relevance of BELGIAN designer MARTIN MARGIELA of MAISON MARGIELA and his INNOVATIVE approach to FASHION DESIGN and PRESENTATION. NOTORIOUS for not granting interviews or appearing on camera, in the recent retrospective documentary MARTIN MARGIELA: IN HIS OWN WORDS (AMINATA PRODUCTIONS, 2020), MARGIELA functions as an of-sorts narrator to his own story while maintaining his complete anonymity.
the conceit of the film is in essence in an INDUSTRY where FAME and CELEBRITY are fleeting come and go with new collections each subsequent season, MARGIELA was able to construct a NOVEL VOCABULARY and DESIGN AESTHETIC that has lasted far beyond his twenty year reign at his former namesake fashion house, which ended in 2009. he was in COMPLETE CONTROL throughout and resigned only when the business side, due to expansion and the success of the brand, began to inevitably dictate and encroach on his ARTISTIC VISION. in this manner his departure maintained the PURITY of his collections, which were his legacy.
and that focus on the product was INTENTIONAL. famously, MARGIELA left the press alone to make sense of his COLLECTIONS, providing no input, direction or CONTEXT as is the INDUSTRY PRACTICE. in this manner he cultivated an EXPECTATION of INNOVATION and spurred fierce discussion, expression and enabled free thought with regards to his critics. he let them decide on their own how to approach and evaluate his work, with no pushback or encouragement on his end. this is basically unheard of in the FASHION WORLD where HYPE is inextricably part of the game. for MARGIELA, THE WORK AND ONLY THE WORK was what mattered. period.
and what about the actual clothes? MARGIELA is so REVERED because he essentially INVERTED all sorts of explicit and implicit EXPECTATIONS in the INDUSTRY. for instance he was CELEBRATED for REPURPOSING, RECYCLING, RE-CONTEXTUALIZING, discarded NON-PREMIUM MATERIALS with an almost MARCEL DUCHAMP-ian ability to RECONSTRUCT and REDETERMINE their VALUE and UTILITY through the power of CONCEPT. a MARGIELA item had value because of the IMAGINATIVE idea behind it, not the SCARCITY of the MATERIAL itself. similarly, his GARMENTS provided an almost META-NARRATIVE regarding their creation, DECONSTRUCTING for the wearer the process by which they were conceived and constructed. even the labeling was UNIQUE and somewhat of an ANTI-LABEL statement, with four RUDIMENTARY corner stitches along a rectangle of light FABRIC, sometimes unmarked itself. the result was four corner stitches exposed on the outside of the GARMENT, making it appear INCOMPLETE and still in the process of being manufactured. MARGIELA even confronted the PRESENTATION of his work, often casting NORMAL women as models (known as street casting) and utilizing UNCONVENTIONAL off-site venues (such as parking garages, beneath bridges, vacant outdoor lots) to unveil his work in UNEXPECTED CONTEXTS. in summation, his work was highly CONCEPTUAL and played around and CHALLENGED LONG-HELD IDEAS concerning the INCEPTION, CONSTRUCTION and PRESENTATION PROCESSES involved with the design of clothes. virtually anyone today that is SUBVERTED EXPECTATIONS through DECONSTRUCTING such in a NOVEL way is taking a cue from the playbook invented by MARGIELA, which is why he is still more than a decade later into his retirement such a REVERED figure.
my interest is not so much with FASHION itself, but with visionaries that CHALLENGED, TRANSGRESSED and ultimately SUBVERTED the STATUS QUO to their will and invented a NEW LANGUAGE unto themselves in the process. people like FRANCIS BACON, HUBERT SELBY JR, PATTI SMITH, BILL HICKS, LOU REED, JENNIFER DOUDNA & EMMANUELLE CHARPENTIER, FRANK ZAPPA or MARLON BRANDO. MARTIN MARGIELA: IN HIS OWN WORDS is beyond compelling and most definitely worth checking out regardless of your interest in haute couture.