Interview by Filep Motwary
Maison Martin Margiela has existed since 1988, intelligently creating fashion that goes beyond any system required by the industry. The house has proved to be an important antidote to high fashion’s dullness—established or ephemeral— by being true to its own principles: anonymity, conceptualism, artisanship and the power of process, to name a few. The statements are not verbal but designed, and true to Maison Martin Margiela’s visual concerts are its customers and devoted followers, always eager to watch without prejudice.
FILEP MOTWARY: We live in the insta-era: many new faces come and go in the blink of an eye and collections are launched every three months. What would you say are the most important ingredients for longevity?
MAISON MARTIN MARGIELA: Classic tailoring, cuts, shapes and styles create fashion that lasts the test of time as trends become irrelevant. Certain key pieces are timeless; they are simply given new life, season after season through reinterpretation and reinvention.
FM: And how does your anonymity enforce any marketing strategies concerning Maison Martin Margiela?
MMM: Anonymity is not a strategy, a stunt, or a marketing tool. It is, and has always been, employed by the Maison to highlight the collective and to put the product at the forefront.
FM: Fashion designers and architects both have to think in terms of proportion, structure, volume and material. As with houses, humans have such strong bonds with their clothes. Why?
MMM: Fashion is a three-dimensional means of self-expression… And, like a house, being flat doesn’t work.
FM: Your study of the human body is always considering further views on the silhouette. How do you perceive the body?
MMM: The body is free, to stretch, bend and move as it wishes. The clothes you wear should do the same.
FM: What would you say binds us with a certain look, a certain cut or a certain designer to such an extent that it becomes part of our own being?
MMM: Maison Martin Margiela pieces carry over the Maison’s philosophy of anonymity, thus they truly become part of the wearer once this person decides to appropriate them.
FM: Fashion as a business—both in theory and in practice—has changed radically. Is there still space or time for it to become a manifesto for matters such as racism, sexuality, education, disability or sociological issues?
MMM: Even if fashion has become more and more of an industry, it has always had the potential to be politically or socially charged and will forever remain a liberating form of self-expression in numerous ways.
FM: Is it obligatory for fashion to be beautiful?
MMM: No; it has to be interesting. And often interesting is beautiful.
FM: What are the differences between an innovative designer/artist /architect and someone who simply serves a profession?
MMM: This is something that is decided by the audience. Not the designer.
FM: Maison Martin Margiela is a result of teamwork. How do new members enter the team and to what extent is it difficult for them to leave?
MMM: Upon entering they are given a blouse blanche [lab coat] and when they leave they return their blouse.
FM: Both the venue MMM chose for the menswear autumn/winter 2014 presentation and the collection itself had an expansive architectural point of view and included street fashion, a fusion of surfaces, leather, military blankets, fur… There was a certain retrophilia embraced by modern cuts, silenced by modern materials like the waterproof bags, for example. What was the aim behind this collection?
MMM: The collection drew inspiration from the creation of the isolated, mineral and glacial communist Pyramiden city. This forgotten city created the patch-worked man: spontaneous overlapping of shapes and volumes, displaced proportions, deconstructed garments. The silhouette is solid, material raw, and clothes and cuts appear as though frozen in time, much like our show venue. The Siège du Parti Communiste (Communist Party Headquarters) is an architectural dream, retro but timeless, a true classic.
FM: How would you describe the Maison Martin Margiela man?
MMM: The Maison never designs with a specific person in mind. Our designs are to be interpreted and appropriated in whichever way one sees fit and we do not pretend to impose our vision of who should or shouldn’t wear our pieces.
FM: Where does his impulse come from?
FM: Recently, like never before, Maison Martin Margiela has been linked openly to celebrity collaborations (for example, with Kanye West). This is somethingnew, since the house is known for its strong preference for anonymity.
MMM: Only the members of the Maison have to remain anonymous.
FM: How do you connect with your customers? A performer can build a dialogue with an audience,the same way a fashion designer can connect with his customers through the objects they create. What is that bridge for you?
MMM: We connect in the exact way you mentioned: through our products. This is precisely the ONLY way in which we connect. The customers recognise themselves in our pieces instead of identifying with who made them.
FM: Is creation a language, a utility? Is it a language one needs to learn?
MMM: Creation is a means of communication so, in a way, it is a language and one that can lead to multiple interpretations and understanding. It is
perhaps the richest language of them all.
FM: What about the Artisanal collection? Why is that always so mysterious? How does it constitute value in fashion?
MMM: Artisanal is based upon the recuperation and reinterpretation of otherwise disused or mundane garments and objects. It reinvents pieces and gives life to others whose shelf lives were assumed over. There is nothing mysterious about this. In a way, it’s perhaps the most democratic and all-encompassing aspect of the Maison.
FM: Many of the garments and accessories are made from domestic materials, which are often opposites or make a strange combination with each other. How much time does it take to test their compatibility? Is there a procedure? How do you choose them?
MMM: Our Artisanal pieces are all hand-made and so take an incredibly long time, as all couture pieces around the world do. It’s not a scientific experiment; the procedure is organic, creative and spontaneous.
FM: Can fashion today reflect a specific historical era or is it timeless, infinite? Is there still space for emotion?
MMM: Today, fashion reflects specific trends and tends to be less era-influenced but more socially loaded and associated to certain groups of people. With so many ideals of “what is fashionable,” in a way, the term has lost its meaning.
Martin Margiela first got the fashion world thinking in 1989 with a collection that challenged what luxury could be. Applying 'grunge' techniques such as deconstruction, recycling and raw finishes, in an intelligent and sleek manner, his ideas provoked shock and intrigue. In a rejection of mass media culture, Margiela became an anonymous design hand and has hardly ever been photographed or interviewed. Working under the collective 'Maison Martin Margiela' for over 20 years, Margiela left the label in 2009, however a 'faceless' team continued to produce surreal and challenging collections. Recently, John Galliano was named as the house artistic director changing the name to Maison Margiela.