Martin Margiela and the blindness of fashion

As from his first show, Martin Margiela renders his models unrecognizable for the maison's recent 2009 Spring/Summer women's ready-to-wear offering. By covering their faces with cotton gauze, the house intends to focus attention on the clothes.

Editorial from Arena Homme Plus 30: Hard Times. While the magazine celebrates its 30th issue, Maison Martin Margiela marks its 20th year in women's wear and its 10th in menswear

Left: hand-painted recycled five-pocket classic cut jeans (2001 F/W Artisanal line), hand-painted recycled boots (1999 F/W). Right: over-dyed recycled and reworked cotton college sweatshirt with hand-stitched leather elbow patches (2000 S/S Artisanal line), over-dyed recycled and reworked five-pocket classic cut jeans with leather knee inserts (2000 F/W Artisanal line), hand-painted recycled boots (1999 F/W). Cotton gauze veil from first Martin Margiella collections (1989 S/S)

Right: cotton recycled aviator's boiler-suit retailored into short jacket (1995 F/W Artisanal line), cotton recycled battle-pants turned inside out and retailored into multi-pocket chinos (1998 F/W Artisanal line)

Cotton hand-finished coat (2005 F/W Replica, provenance: England, period: 1970)

"When Jenny [Meirens] and Martin started out, they collected furniture from all over the place, from the street, from flea markets, from stores all over the world. They had no money and it was all in different styles, so to make it seem coherent it was all painted white."

Above is an image from their website: mannequins shrouded in white cloth. The concept of anonimity and concealment pervade the maison's collections, its atelier, and is fiercely defended by Martin Margiela himself, who has become an enigma because of his refusal to appear before the press.

Maison Martin Margiela celebrates its 20th anniversary this month with an exhibition at the Antwerp Mode Museum, which shows until February 8, 2009.

Close-up of recycled boots, painted white like the house's whitewashed furniture

At the Antwerp exhibit: mannequins behind what appears to be clear plastic

Martin Margiela also uses tape to recycle items found in vintage chests. In this instance he uses gaffer tape for a jacket, belt, stilletos, and bags from the 2005 F/W women's Artisanal collection. A t-shirt from the 2008 F/W men's RTW collection is emblazoned with the letter M, which looks as if it were taped.

In these mood images for the 2004 F/W men's RTW, the eyes of models and mannequins are covered with tape. Faces cannot show expression; only clothes give impressions.

After white gauze, paint, and tape, Martin Margiela, in logical development, produces shades that cover the eyes as tape would: a one-piece visor named Incognito.

It has been mentioned that the maison's desire to remain low-key has given other designers free rein to reference Margiela's influential designs and innovations.

Margiela emerged as a designer during the latter part of the eighties, when other superstar designers basked in the limelight and more often than not overhshadowed their own creations. Margiela decided he wanted a different path.

Above: pieces from Artisanal lines made from gloves. Below: gloves on dresses by Comme des Garçons, from its 2007 women's F/W collection

No brand logos can be found on Margiela's clothes, only four diagonal stitches outside and a patch of numbers inside. The numbers stand for different lines.

"0": Garments, fabrics, and accessories reworked by hand as garments for women and men

The reworking of clothes and objects as newly conceived garments and accessories has been a primary creative outlet for the Maison Martin Margiela ever since its second collection for women for Autumn/Winter 1989-90.

These items, given that they are handmade, have always been referred to as our "Artisanal" production and, for the past few years, Line "0". The numbers 0 to 23 are printed on their label which is either sewn into, embossed, or stamped on the garment or accessory. The zero on that label has been encircled to denote that they belong to this particular Martin Margiela collection.

Each garment or item is made or reworked totally by hand at the Maison Martin Margiela's in-house atelier in Paris. The great amount of time dedicated to each piece, in some cases three to four days, and the scarcity of the vintage raw materials used requires that the total number of editions produced of each piece is extremely limted. Each piece is therefore entirely unique.

"10": A collection for men

"10" should be seen as a wardrobe consisting of garments which have different functions yet which each of which should be given a similar value and importance.

Traditional jackets are proposed to be worn with jeans or cotton trousers and a T-shirt or sweater rather than as a classic suit with a shirt.

Every garment has been received the same attention and detail, whether it be a traditional jacket or a jeans jacket.

All the lined garments have traditional interior details such as three different types of lining at the arm gussets and labels giving special care instructions particular to the garment.

Coats, cabans, jackets, waistcoats and jeans jackets all have real horn buttons.

"14": A wardrobe for men

"14" is the vision of Maison Martin Margiela on a wardrobe for women, the second label of men's clothes, it was first introduced for Spring/Summer 2005. "14" compliments "10" the House's collection of men's ready-to-wear garments.

The garments of "14" evoke timelessness. Its foundation is that of a personal approach to dressing fixed on a taste rather than a seasonal approach to design or a particular age group.

A selection contrasting men's garments, its sensibility bridges that of traditional, sartorial, and structured clothing.

Extra care and craft have been attributed to construction, fit, the choice of fabrics, hand finishing, and the perfection of the interior and exterior detailing of all its garments.

Left: 2007 S/S, Vintage basketball style sneakers in white canvas are opened to create a waistcoat. Once their rubber soles have been removed the sneakers are opened out, laid flat, and assembled on a tailor's dummy to create this garment. The original laces randomly hang from the metal eyelets and serve to close the waistcoat where necessary. Waistcoat : 22 hours

Right: 2007 F/W, A choice of two of many styles of men's footwear, from biker boots to sneakers, are dissected and reassembled together to create one new pair of men's boots

Left: 2007 F/W, A vintage blouson is reworked, the weave of its tweed opened to create fringing and biker style motifs, so that it imitates the form and detailing of a leather biker jacket

Right: 2007 S/S, Vintage sports bags are used as the fabric of a blouson. A few sports bags are required to create one zipped jacket. All of the original details of the bags - zips, pockets, straps, and piping - are maintained to embellish the final garment. Blouson : 57 hours

Left: 2007 F/W, Links, cut from jackets in contrasting sheepskins, are reworked into the structure of a vintage sheepskin coat

Right: 2007 F/W, Three leather waistcoats fused together to give the appearance of a pin up face in different shades

2006 F/W, The belts of vintage leather trench coats are assembled to create jeans and a blouson. These belts of varying leathers and colors are placed together on a tailor's dummy and stitched together to create a sleeveless blouson. All of the original detailing of the belts has been maintained including some of their original buckles that remain to belt the new garments. The suppleness of jacket and trousers is assured by opening the belts so that their original thickness be reduced. Blouson = 38 hours, trousers = 48 hours

From 2006 S/S: Khaki cotton jacket and trousers made from military satchels

Left: 2007 F/W, Circular discs, in varying tones of faded vintage denim, are applied as sequins to a pair of vintage bleached jeans

Right: 2006 F/W, Velvet evening waistcoats are reworked as a trouser. These waistcoats in dark colours ( brown, anthracite, and black) are opened and reassembled on a dummy to be sewn up as a trouser. The straight trouser leg is uneven in length. The new trouser features all of the original waistcoat detailing such as pockets, satin piping and buttonholes, and buttons. Trouser = 46 hours

2006 F/W, Discs cut from men's suits in varying tones of dark colors and fabrics are assembled as waistcoats. Discs cut from the suit's outer fabric are folded, gathered and flattened, and assembled and stitched by hand to create the front panel of the waistcoat's. Its back is constructed of similar discs cut from the suit's lining. These waistcoats are proposed in two color combinations: dark grey with an anthracite back or evening black with an ecru back. Waistcoat = 32 hours

Left: 2006 F/W, Men's dress socks are used as the material of a cardigan. Men's evening socks, found unused as part of a dead stock, in blacks and browns and of varying motifs are assembled directly on a tailor's dummy either right way round or inside out. They are then hand stitched to create a light, tight fitting, formal cardigan. Cardigan = 39 hours

Right: 2007 S/S, A bathrobe is created using vintage unused bath towels of varying weaves and motifs. Before assembly by hand as a bathrobe on a tailor's dummy these towels are firstly overdyed in dark colours to create a patchwork of textures, stripes, and embroidered emblems. Robe = 27 hours

Left: 2007 S/S, A few hand painted oil canvases, depicting pastoral scenes and animals, create a waistcoat. Each painting is removed from its stretcher, softened and coated to fix its oils and gesso. The paintings are superimposed in places to create the garment for which the raw edges of the canvases are now visible. The finished waistcoat, once finished, is lined in poplin. Waistcoat = 25 hours

Right: 2007 S/S, A trench coat is tailored from calico shopping bags. Fabric shopping bags, bearing the logos of the shops from which they came, are bleached back to a camel colour. Up to forty of these bags are required to create one coat. Even the storm flaps, belts, and belt-loops are cut from the bags. Trenchcoat : 42 hours

Left: 2006 F/W, Cummerbunds are combined to create an evening jacket. Dark and light colored cummerbunds are assembled by hand on a tailor's dummy and used to create a cropped evening jacket. The fact that the original state of cummerbunds remains intact ensures that all of their original detail remains visible on the finished garment. Jacket = 45 hours

Right: 2007 F/W, Western style motifs are cut away by hand from the body of its fabric to embellish a vintage man's dinner jacket

Left: 2008 S/S, The plastron of a vintage shirt is embroidered with various buttons in mother-of-pearl, metal, and plastic, composing the drawing of an eye. T-shirt = 20 hours

Right: 2008 S/S, A leather jacket is made of footballs. The balls are cut up, flattened, and applied on leather similar to the rubbery inner tube of the ball. Jacket = 35 hours

There are more sartorial suprises in the "10" line.

From 2003 F/W: Reworked biker waistcoat in leather, t-shirt with a reversed V-neck, painted denim jacket "2tones grey", and artisanal printed t-shirt

From 2004 S/S and F/W: Reversed moleskin trench coat with printed t-shirt, checked artisanal trousers with belt taken from a pair of vintage jeans, artisanal assembled sleeveless inside-out norwegian sweater, and vintage checked trousers artisanally reworked into a top

From 2005 F/W: Vintage sheepskin pilot caps reworked as a leather blouson, reversible belt made from 60s ties, red waistcoat with leather colorcard patches, and vintage 60s neckties reworked as a waistcoat

From 2005 S/S and 2006 F/W: Mismatched sides of two vintage suede blousons, artisanal reversed denim jacket, reversible sheepskin coat, and spencer jacket with a leather collar worn with a replica cotton voile shirt

From 2006 S/S and F/W: Leather jacket with stripe and patch in fake leopard fur, jacquard zipped sweater, and sandals and boots in denim

From 2006 S/S. From 2007 S/S: Cotton jacket with inspired western details worn with a printed shirt and for the last outfit: studded waistcoat, iridescent jeans, ridged leather belt, and brogues in iridescent leather

From 2007 S/S and F/W: Leather patchwork spencer, replica leather blouson, spencer closed by a red cummerbund, and printed cotton shirt

From 2008 F/W

From 2008 F/W. From 2008 S/S: Evening shirt with a pleated bib and cotton poplin black shirt with a bib

All in all, Martin Margiela's attention to detail, structure, and fabric, plus his ingenious innovations, rehabilitations, and modifications, show that he is a true artisan - one of the last few, if not the last, left in fashion.

From 2006 S/S Replica: Trenchcoat with covering placket, provenance: Germany, period: 1982; photographer's parka with hood and adjustable cuffs, provenance: Berlin, period: 1979

The process with which he relentlessly resurrects and reinterprets past designs reveals most explicitly the real nature of fashion, even of art itself: that everything has already been said; it is merely a matter of saying it again with new eyes, exaggerating, cutting down, or fusing together according to the changing perceptions of the times.

From 2005 S/S Replica: Trenchcoat, provenance: US, period: 1966; from 2006 S/S: Unlined safari jacket, provenance: US, period: 50s

He apparently leads the fashion pack because, through his works, he is the most candid in this admission, the most blunt. Even in his Artisanal lines, it is as if he says that all the materials we will ever need are already at hand; any changes or modifications are deemed minimal.

From 2005 S/S: Waiter's waistcoat, provenance: France, period: currently in us; from 2006 S/S: cotton cardigan with shawl collar, provenance: Ireland, period: 1981; from 2006 S/S: den's fitted leather jacket with "lowered lapel", provenance: Italy, period: 70s

Above all, it is about revision.

But this does not mean that everything needs to be changed. Margiela also allocates space in the maison for unadulterated and unabashed Replicas, in recognition of perfect craft.

From 2005 S/S Replica: Blazer jacket, provenance: The Netherlands, period: 1975; from 2006 S/S: sports jacket with back vents, provenance: Italy, period: unknown; from 2005 S/S: sports jacket, provenance: US, period: 1960

Each season "14" contains a group of "Replica". These clothes the Maison Martin Margiela has found and loved yet felt that they should remain exactly as they are. They are slavishly reproduced and carry a second label explaining their origin, function, and period. The role of Maison Martin Margiela as designers on these pieces is thereofre reserved to ensuring that the choice of fabric and their construction resemble the original as closely as possible. What were "one off" vintage garments therefore become available to many, in their exact size and new!

From 2005 S/S Replica: Sailor trousers, provenance: US, period: 1970; from 2006 S/S: classic trousers with fixed flaps, provenance: Scandinavia, period: unknown; from 2005 S/S: smoking trousers, provenance: France, period: 1930

For all his invention and quiet revolution, ironically, Martin Margiela is the most grounded among the designers. His work is the most organic and the styles he introduces and reintroduces are understood by his buyers, unencumbered by intrusive marketing and excessive image building.

From 2006 S/S: Evening shirt with "bow tie collar", provenance: Stockholm, period: 1976; from 2005 S/S: club shirt, provenance: France, period: 1968; from 2005 S/S: dinner shirt, provenance: London, period: 1950

It appears that Maison Martin Margiela creates clothes for the joy of it, and that is what people buy. Plain and simple.

From 2005 S/S: Tubular underwear t-shirt, provenance: Germany, period: 1975