Martin Margiela is the invisible man of high fashion. In an industry that requires its stars to shine in public, the 63-year-old designer has refused to take a runway bow or do an interview. In a new documentary, out next week from Oscilloscope Laboratories, the Belgian designer breaks his silence.
Martin Margiela: In His Own Words tells a story that begins in childhood and moves through Margiela’s studies at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, his work for Jean Paul Gaultier in Paris, and then, with the founding of his own label in 1989, his visionary years at Maison Margiela, which ended in 2009 when he left the business. It’s an ascent to eminence and influence that’s punctuated by broken rules and a refusal to play the traditional game.
Along the way, we get an exclusive tour of Margiela’s Paris studio, as well as intimate shots of his drawings, garments, and notebooks. The film features firsthand stories told by models and fashion historians, accompanied by serene Parisian cityscapes. And it is Margiela himself who narrates the documentary, sharing his observations on art and society, ideas that were absorbed into conceptual designs that would shock the fashion world: angular, architectural dresses; faceless runway models; coats made entirely out of hair extensions—Bauhaus meets Jim Henson.
Though his work attracted the spotlight, Margiela rejected it. He still refuses interviews and hates being photographed, and though he speaks throughout the film, his face remains outside the frame. The director Reiner Holzemer—known for his 2017 Dries van Noten documentary, Dries)—says he worked around Margiela’s wish to remain anonymous by focusing the camera on the designer’s articulate hands. We see those hands gesturing as he talks, leafing through old boxes, adjusting garments. The models on-screen, who include Mika’Ela Fisher and Kristina De Coninck, remark on how soft Margiela’s touch was when he dressed them.
That touch has now been brought to painting and sculpture, forms of expression that were nascent in Margiela’s fashion design. Freed from the fashion cycle and its endless demands, the man is happy. The debut exhibition of Margiela’s artwork, in the gallery space of the Galeries Lafayette foundation, is scheduled for next spring. —Nadja Sayej