The Martin Margiela Documentary: In His Own Words

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It may sound strange to film a portrait about a designer without showing the protagonist’s face – but if that designer is Martin Margiela, that is the way it must be done.

As with any art form, appreciation for his handiwork is very subjective, but an indicator of success would be the influence the artist or the movement has. Margiela’s designs may not be your own personal taste in fashion, but in the entirety of his 41 provocative collections, the Maison has shaped the fashion industry, and even 20 years after he left, his impact is still easily recognisable.

The documentary In His Own Words is the first time Martin Margiela speaks for himself and explains his works. He never gave interviews before, though mystery was never a strategy of his. Backstage solitude is just the way he is – a myth and a master. He explains different stages in his career and talks about formative childhood memories. He also reveals what made him silent leave the industry without any public announcement. He says he still feels the pressure, even after years of no longer working in the Maison. Despite only hearing his voice and seeing his hands, the viewer is still able to connect and feel intimacy with Margiela. The director, Reiner Holzemer, succeeded in creating a fascinating portrait about the „Banksy of Fashion“, whose work has become a part of contemporary cultural heritage.

The documentary also features others interviews with the likes of his mentor Jean Paul Gaultier, the trend-forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort, and fashion editor Carine Roitfeld. We see all of his groundbreaking works from his namesake Maison, as well as the collections he made within Hermès, when two worlds collided – French conservative leatherwork, with his deconstructive, playful way of designing: both the epitome of superb craftsmanship.

Margiela’s conceptual approach to fashion thoroughly challenged aesthetic values of its time. His way of designing clothes meant dismantling them, turning the working process into the finished product, and presenting unfinished work with seams, threads, shoulder pads – all exposed. He anticipated the topic of upcycling, by tailoring clothes from unusual materials and second-hand clothing. 20 years ago, sweaters made from tube socks and tops made from plastic bags were shocking to the fashion world, especially when considered couture.

His very first fashion show was staged in a small Parisian café. It was nothing like the other shows of his counterparts in the late eighties. The opening look was a topless model, covering her breasts with her hands, wearing white wide-legged trousers with an unfinished hem. Two jabots (historical neck accessories) were tied around her wrists, and the famous Tabi boots, reminiscent of animal hooves, clomped down a makeshift runway, with the painted soles stamping the papered floor. White is a color Margiela loves, as it is hard to keep pristine and it shows the wear and tear of life most easily. The traditional jabots worn casually were the first glimpse into his rule-breaker mentality, while the Tabi boots were his way of making arguably ugly and unusual shapes en vogue.

This first look thus determined the entirety of his design development, refined over the years. For fans hoping the documentary is his first step back into the fashion industry, he has one clear answer in the end: “No.”

He does not miss his time as a designer, nor does he seem wistful of his past. What we instead can hope for is an extension of the film. The initial 200 hour interview material was cut short to 90 minutes, surely leaving out lots more inspiration and stories.

Text by Hannah Sulzbach
Pictures Courtesy of Reiner Holzemer and Aminata Productions

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