Sunday, January 17, 2010

Maison Martin Margiela: The Book

 “The past is what binds us, the future leads us.” 
-Maison Martin Margiela

When talking about fashion and its brands it’s easy to immediately think about the big fat names that have prevailed in the scene for years, those that jump out of every magazine and billboard, the ones that hang out with models and star-bloggers at the most exclusive parties, and the same that smile for the lens of Tommy Ton or Scott Schuman. Karl Lagerfeld, Alexander Wang, Betsey Johnson, Marc Jacobs: the nature of the fashion industry place the creators and their colorful personalities in the spotlight, making them as important to the show as the clothes they make. Still, there is one exception to the rule.

Maison Martin Margiela, the Paris-based cult label created in 1988 by Martin Margiela, has adopted an anti-marketing stance as a way of existence. The avant-garde house of the extremely elusive Belgian designer --that some claim to be the unofficial member of the Antwerp Six-- has been dropping jaws with its one of a kind collections since the late eighties, yet nobody really knows much about the shy guy that leads it. After having escaped from the public eye for years (up to his retirement in October 2009) by avoiding personal interviews, not appearing at the end of his shows and keeping away from the eagle-eyed photographers, the launching of the first book that documents the work of the mysterious designer came as a very pleasant surprise. The special publication that Rizzoli Publications launched in October 2009 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the label came as a gift for those avid fans that hoped to find a clue about the enigma that surrounds the three M’s identity.  Being one of them, lucky enough to own one of the limited edition pieces, I feel it is my duty to share it with you.

They say everything resembles its owner. This sentence stands true in this case: even from the outside you can tell the hardcover book inherits the Maison Martin Margiela look. Completely covered in white linen --Margiela’s long time color pick--, its only decoration is the 0-23 “logo”, a set of numbers that label the collections in apparent randomness. This prepares you for what you are about to see as you make your way through the 368 pages. Hundreds of images extracted from Maison Martin Margiela’s archives, as well as essays, magazine’s articles and personal letters, take you to a journey throughout the career of the fashion house in a non-chronological yet understandable way. Even then you can notice the talented hand of Margiela --who designed the book himself-- while looking at the silver inks, ribbon markers, paper types and mini-booklets that  one finds every now and then with special amusement.

 The fashion house that takes democracy and anonymity to the extreme by dressing its team members with white lab coats, speaking as “we” instead of “I” in all its communication, using masks or Incognito sunglasses to hide the identity of the models during the shows and placing blank tags with four white stitches in all its clothing, gets a complete revision of its history and evolution in the white book. The first appearance of their trademark Tabi-boots, the making of the whimsical Artisanal Collection, the infected dresses at the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum and the unforgettable show of their 20th anniversary (S/S 2009): it’s all there in high-quality photographs, most of them full pages. Pure visual candy for our fashion sweet tooth, enriched with exclusive editorial material in the form of profound essays that analyze central aspects of Margiela’s work: the influence of Japanese deconstructivism (Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto), the art-driven creative process, the desire for anonymity, the use of vintage (Replicas) and visual puns, and the relationship between garments and its owners. These contributions by Andrée Putman, Vanessa Beecroft and Susannah Frankel are alternated with touching letters by Carine Roitfeld (editor in chief of Vogue Paris) and Jean-Paul Gaultier, the extravagant designer with whom Margiela worked for three years, and who ends his missive with these words:  “20 years to tell you how much I am proud of you, I admire you, I respect you, I love you! And finally, thank you because loving you is like feeling 20 forever. Bravo Martin!”

Intellectual and emotional, serious and playful, Maison Martin Margiela’s book achieves what no publication had before: it shares a different perspective, an intimate and honest one, on the philosophy and creative process of one of the most influential and polemic houses in the fashion scene today. And after feeling the rough texture of its embroidered cover, weighting its heaviness over my lap and discovering something exciting in each page, I come to realize that every single detail on it was meticulously planned by a genius. Because it faithfully transmits the passion that has always defined each step its creator takes, and one becomes inevitably attached to it, forever hypnotized by that secret world we just caught a glimpse of, yet we barely know about.

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