"We Margiela" Documentary to Give a Glimpse into the Enigmatic House

August 30, 2017 11:00 AM

Fashion, by definition has always been about the new and the now. Designers reinvent their aesthetic each season to create looks for the runway, and similarly, fashion is a means for the wearer to reinvent his or herself, finding new ways to reflect outwardly one's inner thoughts and values. But some designers make such an impact on fashion culture, that the ripples of their influence reverberate for decades, as is the case with Maison Martin Margiela, the brand founded in 1988 by designer Martin Margiela and his business partner, Jenny Meirens.

The casting of "regular people" instead of professional models; the careful placement of a frayed hem or exposed stitch; the deconstruction/reconstruction of traditional garments to synthesize an entirely new design; the up-cycling of non-traditional materials such as plastic bags or proletarian uniforms to create meticulously tailored high-end garments; the eschewing of bourgeois standards of glamour in favor of a more individualistic style; a radical recasting of the fashion designer's role as cultural critic rather than money maker. Does any of this sound familiar? The Margiela ideology has become the standard-bearer for 21st Century avant garde style. Alexander McQueen, Raf Simons, Marc Jacobs, Prada, Hermes, Kanye West and Junya Watanabe have all torn a page or two from the Margiela playbook.

But despite the remarkable resonance of the aesthetic they brought to the world of fashion, relatively little is known about Martin and Meirens. And that's just how they wanted it. Martin, who spent three years apprenticing with Jean Paul Gaultier in Paris before launching his own line with Meirens was wary of becoming "mediatised." He staunchly protected his anonymity, even at the height of his success, when MMM was creating a ruckus at Paris Fashion Week, season after season, from the time of its groundbreaking show in March of 1988. But since his retirement in 2002, after he and Meirens sold their brand to Only The Brave (the parent company of Diesel), he has remained completely out of the public eye.

Sadly, Meirens passed away in July at the age of 73, following a prolonged illness. But prior to her passing, she blessed posterity by speaking on camera about the founding of Maison Martin Margiela, explaining their approach and philosophy with unprecedented clarity. "All we did was try to break with what had been done before," she recalled. "When you want to please others and everyone, you will get nowhere. I think you have to diversify yourself from others. In the long run, it gives you freedom, not having to answer to the system." Her interviews, along with photos from the design archives, and interviews with key members of the Margiela team are featured in a new documentary titled We Margiela by the Mint Film Office. The film will premiere in Rotterdam, Netherlands on October 22 at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, where Margiela staged its first museum exhibit in 1997. That same week, the film will also screen in Antwerp and Milan. 

In line with Margiela's characteristic evasiveness, additional details about the film's wider international release have not been announced. But while you wait for We Margiela to come to a theater near you, (or to stream online, if the fashion gods so choose to bless us), you can try to score a limited-edition, three-envelope mailing (sent out over three months) which the producers promise will contain photos and interview transcripts from the film "to give you a unique impression of the atmosphere and contents of the forthcoming documentary." Only 999 subscribers will be so blessed, but if you miss it, you can hold out for a copy of the We Margiela book when it is published later this year. There is an Instagram account for the film as well– and while I suspect that media-shy Margiela would not be too happy about it– it features some poignant images and insights from the film. (Margiela did not participate in the documentary, and little is known about his current whereabouts or activities.)

The modern-day torch for Maison Martin Margiela is being carried by a man whose life story reads as a cautionary tale regarding the hazards of media overexposure– John Galliano– who was hired by OTB to helm the label in 2014. But fashion is all about reinvention, and in reinterpreting the Margiela style book, Galliano has found his redemption. Galliano's penchant for bias cutting and precision tailoring has proven to be a perfect counterbalance to Margiela’s anti-glamour aesthetic. If Galliano can emulate the designer’s evasive media strategy, while challenging the status quo in his designs, and not succumbing to the luxury designers' subterfuge to make wearable status symbols, he may once again become known more for his work than his antics. The key is finding that perfect balance between defying the fashion world and celebrating it, which is precisely what made Margiela and Meiren's partnership so extraordinary.









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