There are two exhibitions in Paris right now on the work of Martin Margiela, so I decided to visit them both and do a two part series post this week on both exhibitions.
A little bit of an aside, I didn't know that much about Margiela prior to the exhibition, but I really learned a lot. If you’re interested in learning about fashion, exhibitions are a great way to gain insight into the designer and sometimes the industry (books and documentaries are also great).
But anyway… the Margiela / Galliera, 1989-2009 at Palais Galliera is the first retrospective of Margiela’s work in Paris, it showcased pieces from the 20 years that Margiela worked with the fashion house (1989-2009).
The first thing I noticed walking into the museum was the narrow white carpet that went up the steps of the museum, it was as a reminder that Margiela’s first show was staged on a cheap white cloth runway, with the models leaving sticky red-paint Tabi boot-prints behind them. It was also very aesthetic! During the exhibition, I learned that Margiela used that runway cloth in his next collection along with some gaffer tape, to make a top. This was the first invention of recycling that the fashion industry saw.
In Margiela’s early years, his creativity was often born of necessity (like most new designers, he didn’t have a lot of money to finance his career) but this innovation later became his signature aesthetic statement throughout his career.
Considered a pioneer of conceptual fashion, Margiela’s innovation and creativity were well ahead of his time. His collections bring up important themes in fashion today like sustainability, Margiela was very interested in the deconstruction and reconstruction of old garments. He cut original 50’s ball gowns, dyed them and layered them over jeans and made garments. He also pretty much invented the “oversized” look we see a lot of fashion houses adopting today.
Margiela worked as the creative director, and was very involved in the process as he was said to have been on site constantly doing the wigs and the makeup on the mannequins. There is a lot of mystery behind the designer as he rarely does interviews, but there were several little anecdotes and never before seen video footage throughout the exhibition that carried the spirit of the designer, often explaining his vision or process behind a particular look.
One of my favorite anecdotes from the exhibition was one where he talked about not having a supplier for knitwear so he asks his mum to help, and she hand knits “The Punk Sweater” with broomsticks to produce an open irregular stitch that she later recreated forty times to be sold.
One of my biggest takeaways of this exhibition wasthe depths and capability of full creative expression and freedom that Margiela was able to achieve and inspire. His influence can be seen today in the work of brands like Balenciaga, Vetements and even Kanye West. From duvet puffer coats to deconstructed denim, plastic coats and handbags made out of a motorcycle helmet, the exhibition proves that Margiela was very unique in his creative process and still inspires a lot of designers today.
I felt really inspired after leaving the exhibition, because Margiela was a designer that never compromised on his point of view. At the end of the day, he just really loved clothes; he often presented his looks without a models persona (by covering their faces), while using friends and untraditional models in his collections.
He took fashion to places, at the time, it had never been taken before; hosting shows in supermarkets, train stations, even a Salvation Army – his shows were unconventional and impactful.
He didn’t care about who wore it, or what the focus in popular culture was at the time, it was a form of creative expression in its purest form. It reminded me of what I love about fashion the most- how intelligent, moving and empowering it can be.
If you happen to be in Paris between now and the 15th of July, I highly recommend visiting the exhibition! Some more of my favorite looks below.