The Visceral Nuances of Martin Margiela

Byronesque’s Gill Linton delves deep into the significance of the Palais Galliera's Margiela retrospective

After a controversial sale we did in Paris last year, we have, apparently, become the go-to people for vintage Margiela. At this point, I have Margiela fatigue. I’m so intimately familiar with most of his work, the methods and the meanings, that it’s like I met my idol and the magic has gone. That’s why a Margiela retrospective (“Margiela / Galliera, 1989-2009,” on view through July 13th at Paris’ Palais Galliera) sounded like a busman’s holiday.

But this happened instead: I let go of the story of Margiela and saw a collection of clothes I wanted to wear, as though they had just been shown for the first time at Paris Fashion Week. That may be because every item on display at the Palais Galliera has inspired every designer at some stage in his or her career. And each piece has obviously been interpreted in some other guise or homage, depending on which side of the Diet Prada fence of shaming you sit. Everything Martin designed and featured in the exhibit still feels new because no other designer can recreate the visceral nuances of his originals. Not all oversized and inside-out jackets are created equal.

However, I was left with some unanswered questions.

According to the museum text, Martin didn’t like the ’80s. But, as you walk around the collection, it’s obvious he was the master of oversized shoulders and big bangs—one of his many irreproducible nuances.

The ’90s, (so the text continues), herald a creative freedom for him to experiment. The beauty he saw in seemingly ugly things (which upset some of the fashion establishment in the same way Rei Kawakubo did when she first showed Comme des Garçons in Paris), lead to jackets made of plastic tape and graffiti Tabis that changed the shape of fashion forever. Literally.

People assume that the pieces on show, the ones we all wish we’d bought and kept the first time around, weren’t in as high demand then as they are now. The truth is that designers like Martin were so experimental that most of the collections didn’t sell in high volumes and could be found at Century 21 for $20. Now, those same pieces are worth over $2,000.

And so it makes sense that the show ends with a fan room full of Margiela memorabilia, but it also doesn’t. An exhibit created by Martin himself, who remains anonymous, showcasing his work like an unmasked rock star? If only he had, Margiela Mania would ensue.

Testimony to the experimental nature of Martin’s designs, the fan rooms were created to accommodate pieces that couldn’t be shown on mannequins.

Alexandre Samson, who curated the show alongside Martin, explained the thinking behind it. “We remembered with Martin the work of the photographer Kyoichi Tsuzuki and his ‘Happy Victims,’ where young Japanese were shot in their flat full of clothes from just one designer,” Samson said. “Martin had the idea to recreate an interior of a fan for each retrospective, a fantasy of a room, with furniture from each period he decorated himself with his own objects.”

The show also left me with a sense of fashion melancholy and a feeling of loss. The current house of Margiela, designed by John Galliano, might carry the same name, but it’s not the same. (Perhaps that’s why the brand chose not to support a retrospective of its founder). A Martin-and-John Margiela show would be some kind of fashion Frankenstein, and even Vetements can’t fill the nuanced void.

Samson suggested that a Martin-and-John show would be an expression of the talent of Matthieu de Blazy, which in my mind I read as Hans Bellmer, which feels somewhat more appropriately, beautifully ugly.

One day, we will run out of Martin’s Margiela. If that isn’t a reason to go see the show, I don’t know what is.

A large selection of vintage Maison Martin Margiela is available now via a collaboration between Byronesque and Vestiaire Collective. To shop the curation, click here.

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