Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Maison Martin Margiela: Redefining Couture

Martin Margiela is somewhat of a mystery man in the fashion world. There are very few people within the industry’s inner circle who actually know what he looks like, let alone have spoken to him directly. Instead his company chooses to communicate to the world as a collective of individuals all dressed alike in white lab coats, making it even harder to discern which one of them might be the designer himself.

But this form of anonymity, in the age of the cult designer, seems to extend to his work. Instead of a distinct logo, his clothes are simply numbered. Instead of sending out a bevy of supermodels down his runway, he prefers to use “ordinary people,” even going so far as to tape over model’s eyes in many of his fashion shoots, so that the focus remains squarely on the clothes.
Yet despite this personal aversion to publicity he remains a respected innovator within the fashion world, and his shows are often the highlight of Paris fashion week.

What we do know is that he was born in Louvain, Belgium in 1957. He is a graduate of the Royal Academy of fine arts in Antwerp and between 1985 and 1987 Margiela worked for Jean Paul Gaultier, before showing his first collection under his own label ‘Maison Martin Margiela’ in 1988. Since its beginnings, Maison Martin Margiela has included with its prêt-à-porter collection a number of garments, accessories and objects defined by the name ‘artisanal’.

Although when Margiela first came on the scene in the late 80’s he became closely linked to the Antwerp Seven and dubbed a deconstructionist, it quickly became apparent that his true passion and innovation in fashion lies in his ability to take vintage and everyday clothing, textiles, and accessories and re-work them into something new. By taking humble and “low-status” materials and refashioning them into desirable garments through the use of labor intensive and technically innovative methods, he’s been able to create a new form of couture.
The infamously selective Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture toke note and asked him to present as a guest member during couture week.

Like haute couture, the limited edition pieces he creates for his artisanal line are all constructed by hand and executed to the highest standards of couture. Yet there is something slightly subversive about a coat composed of dozens of ski gloves that have been taken apart, dyed a darker shade, laid flat and then stitched back together on a tailor’s dummy. A process that took 103 hours to complete. Or there is the long sleeve jacket fabricated from a nylon travel garment bag. Nothing is left to waste in this design, where the bag’s linings are used to create the jackets sleeves, the original piping, hooks and zippers serve as embellishment, while the bag’s shoulder strap has been transformed into the jackets belt. Total hours, 53. No materials are off limits when one considers a dress by the house assembled from recycled painted canvases. Dubbed “le marché aux puces painted canvases,” it received a lot of praise.

Although Margiela’s work is about the structure of existing garments and the possibilities of transforming them, he is also indirectly transforming the structure of the Couture industry as well. One could argue that his exclusive line is as much about questioning ones perceptions of seasons, trends, sustainability, class and even status within the fashion world, as it is about pushing new boundaries in clothing design through the use of age old couture techniques.
© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

No comments: