17 July 2015

The Literal and Metaphorical Masks of Margiela

You hear 'Karl Lagerfeld' and you picture the shades and the ponytail, maybe even Choupette too if you’re one of those over-attached-to-cats types. With Miuccia Prada, you see that distinguished Roman nose. The utter of 'Donatella Versace' and of course those lips come to mind, accompanied by unavoidable musings of “what was she thinking”. What image do you conjure when you think of Martin Margiela? Do you put a name to the face or do you associate the name with a mask?

Maison Margiela has always refused to conform to the set structure of other fashion houses. There seems to be a cyclical process that designers endure - social media accounts, glitzy events, advertisements, designated friend groups, their faces on diet coke cans etc. - and they think that because this is how it's been done before, it so obviously must be THE framework for success. Martin Margiela established a very particular status for himself in fashion and identified his anonymity as the advantage that it was. This era of over-glorification of fashion creators allowed him to stand individual and use his silence as a communicative instrument.

His private approach stemmed far beyond just him as a person as his runway shows swallowed up grittily ordinary girls and spat them back out as faceless models, dripping in vacancy and oozing, well, nothingness. There was never a shriek, or so much as a whisper of "who's she?" because everyone's attention was on the garments. Cloth, make-up and hair were used to shield models’ identity, but masks were what became signature Margiela. Whether carefully encrusted with rare gemstones or blooming with delicate floral embroidery, a runway show wasn’t complete without the masks. Clothes were presented without a girl’s persona attached to them, it was like the wearability of the pieces broadened on an explosive level as neither the press nor customer could narrow or limit the clothes down to distinct looks or lifestyles. There was no talk of Kate or Naomi because the importance wasn’t given to the models, it was given to the fashion. It allowed the professional public to look at the collections in a professional way and that is exactly what the house wanted.

There comes a point where you need to stop in order to protect your work and Margiela executed this with admirable perfection in 2009. He had said all that he needed to say and recognised this so simply walked away, something that people should learn to do more often. John Galliano was appointed creative director of the house in October last year, showing his second couture collection this week at the Grand Palais. Less than 100 guests occupied a single line of chairs, giving everyone a front-row seat. How democratic. 

The baton has been handed to Galliano and he knows the drill. The back-to-front shapes mirror the deconstruction and reconstruction that was vital in Martin’s design, while almost architectural pieces are an exploration of marrying textures and transfigurative ideologies. At first, it was difficult and really quite chronic to imagine such a bold personality at the helm of Maison Margiela, but the house is as much about the clothes as ever. Galliano has taken a step back and found his place in the maison that insists on approaching publicity with a heap of modesty.