Belgian designer Martin Margiela is above all a conceptual designer who has spent his career deconstructing, reconstructing and exploring clothing. His brand has never been “mainstream”, but it is seminal to all today’s designers. Since he first appeared on the scene, doing fashion is walking in Margiela’s footsteps.

A man of mystery and a living legend of fashion, Martin Margiela left the business and handed over the artistic direction of his brand in 2009. Since then, he has devoted himself to painting and sculpture.

In 2018, on the occasion of a retrospective dedicated to him at the Galliera Museum in Paris, director Reiner Holzemer managed to interview live a man who only ever interviewed by fax. He recorded the voice and filmed -at least the hands- of one whose face the public has never seen and who never waved to his adoring crowds at the end of a fashion show. We recently watched this elusive film and here are our highlights:

Red paint: For his first show, in 1989, Margiela dipped the soles of his models in red paint and made them walk on a large white sheet. The “printed” canvas would go on to be used as a basis for his next collection. Note: The shoes featured the split toe of the “tabi”, the boots worn by Japanese garbage collectors. They would remain his signature.

White paint: From the opening of his first stores, just as he chose anonymity so as not to overshadow his creations, Margiela chose to paint everything white, even the cash register and the telephone. Some jeans would undergo the same treatment. 

Street casting: Margiela was the first to dare do it. He recruited his models in the street and covered their faces with hoods or wigs. No stars, no celebrities. Nothing would distract the viewer from the collection. 

Game of scales: Margiela, who grew up in a small mining town where clothing was not seen as important, dressed Barbie dolls with scraps from the fabric that his whimsical grandmother used to make her own dresses. He would later create replicas of these models on a human scale, with oversized buttons. 

Vintage recycling: Margiela hunts for clothes in flea markets, transforms them or prints their imagery on his own models. In 2008, which marked the 20th anniversary of his house, the designer decided to take pieces from his own archives and rework them. This would be his last collection. 

An “overdose of information”: Destabilized by “the new needs of fashion”, he said: “I feel that I could not cope anymore with the worldwide increasing pressure and the overgrowing demands of the trade. I also regretted the overdose of information carried by social media, destroying the thrill of [the] wait and canceling every effect of surprise, [which is] so fundamental for me”.