Can one really love something as faceless as a garment? Does a garment take on a life of its own and if so, when does this life begin: at its creation? At first glances? When it’s first worn? These are the kinds of thoughts that French fashion house Maison Martin Margiela (MMM) inspires. What’s even more perplexing though, is how this renowned house, who has inspired so many, from Marc Jacobs to Alexander McQueen, can be so iconic, so full of life, and yet, be utterly faceless.
For most of the famous houses, it’s hard to separate the brand from the designer. What do you think of when you think of Chanel – Coco and Karl, right? Valentino – the silver haired namesake. Versace – the ever growing caricature that is Donatella. For all these brands, the fashions are an extension of the designer and vice versa; without that personality, the brand loses some of its mystique. At MMM however, it has always been emphasized that the garments are a strictly collective effort, and therefore there will never be a loss when one head transitions to another, or is done away with entirely – in fact, in MMM’s case, this is exactly what occurred.
The real Martin Margiela was born on April 9, 1957 in Genk Belgium. He studied at the Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts where he graduated alongside the famous Antwerp Six in 1980. He began his career freelancing then worked for Jean Paul Gaulthier for five years before forming his own line in 1989. From the start, Margiela and MMM threw the fashion world upside down, defining itself as a master in wearable avant-garde fashion. The term, “deconstructivist” was coined to describe its characteristic topsy-turvy designs and penchant for transforming innocuous materials into couture, such as a car seat cover dress. Every fashion reporter throughout the years has been rabid for more info about the genius behind the white unmarked label, but in all the years of the house, nary a photo has been leaked to reveal Margiela’s identity.
Then suddenly, without any fanfare, Margiela left. Nobody knows exactly when, likely in the mid to late 2000s, but what is known is that the designer seems to have disappeared off the face of the Earth since. Without naming any replacement, many predicted that the house would surely die, but its collectivist culture proved again to be its greatest strength. MMM has continued to churn out strong, forward-thinking collections, while continually referencing its roots. It has also stressed its belief in the democratic nature of fashion by doing collaborations like the hotly anticipated capsule collection with H&M.
While some may deride the H&M collabo as pure commercialism, I’d have to argue that naysayers should check it out first. Other H&M collaborations have left me with a bad taste in my mouth, but the MMM collection looks pleasingly authentic. All the MMM characteristics are there: unique reconstructions like a jacket made of belts, over-sized overcoats, dresses made of linings and exposed tailoring. MMM may have lofty aspirations, but it’s product is made of the humblest of materials. This collection embodies the idea that fashion is something accessible to anyone and that craft and creativity elevates even the humblest of things. I hope that wherever Margiela is now, he feels a twinge of pride. As for me, this may actually be an H&M collection I’d actually line up for!