Photos: Courtesy ModeMuseum
Martin Margiela is best known for his eponymous label and mysterious demeanor but did you know that from 1997 to 2003, the Belgian designer was the artistic director of Hermès? In case you forgot that fun fashion fact, Antwerp’s ModeMuseum is here to remind you with the exhibition “Margiela: The Hermes Years.” The exhibition opened March 31 and will run through August 27.
It was a daring act on the part of then-CEO Jean-Louis Dumas to appoint Margiela, who was known for his destroyed, deconstructed, avant-garde designs, to helm a French fashion house steeped in luxury. The fashion press was convinced he was going to do something really crazy, like saw the iconic Birkin bag in two, and it probably didn’t help that Margiela, for all the respect he commanded in the fashion world, was a largely anonymous figure. He had never given a single interview (a fact that remains true today) and refused to pose for pictures or bow at his runway shows.
Interestingly, Margiela’s work at Hermès was quite the opposite of what many speculated it would be. He ushered in an era of timeless, wearable silhouettes rendered in a monochrome palette. It was the definition of cool, modern luxury. In fact, it was all so understated that the clothes kind of struggled to make an impact in an era of increasing sparkle and sexiness.
For the first time ever, pieces from each of Margiela’s Hermès collections are on display, alongside others from before and after his tenure with the label. The exhibition features 118 items overall, highlighting the contrast between his simple, quiet Hermès garments, and the decidedly more theatrical, sculptural work he produced under his own name. And while there are obvious differences from the two, it’s easy to see how aspects of his work at Hermès influenced what came after.
It’s fitting for Margiela’s work to be showcased in Antwerp, as he is considered an honorary member of the “Antwerp Six,” having graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts just a year before the collective, which includes Walter van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, and Marina Yee.
Photo: Ronald Stoops/Maison Martin Margiela
Margiela, who has been retired from fashion since 2009, was heavily involved in the exhibition and corresponding catalog. According to the New York Times, he styled several mannequins and even offered to make an impromptu replacement when a plastic bag top from his spring/summer 1990 collection went missing (luckily, it was eventually located). It seems there’s a renewed interest in the press-shy designer, as Paris’s Palais Galliera has a retrospective on Margiela’s work for his own label scheduled for 2018.