The Anonymity of Maison Margiela
Looking back on Martin Margiela's 1998 output, including his menswear debut for Spring/Summer and a defining show the next season, we ask ourselves, “can fashion exist without a body?”
With Martin Margiela, anonymity is the game. Famously invisible from the public sphere since the inception of his namesake house in 1988, the designer is best described as enigmatic; an iconoclast responsible for a revolution in fashion that, over 30 years later, is still heavily referenced and blatantly copied. A cult of impersonality with the concepts of unanimity and anonymity at the center of his work, Margiela sparked a necessary conversation at a time when fashion media was creating celebrities overnight and the craze for the “supermodel” was at a fever pitch - the conversation being, “can fashion exist without a body?”
When we think about the human body we think about the individual; the curve of the hip, the width of the shoulders, the length of the leg, the specific angles and features that make one unique and identifiable. To Margiela, though, the body is a piece in the collective network; a vessel for communal expression whose only important features are the polar ends of the figure, being the headpiece and shoes, otherwise allowing everything in between to become tools for blending in. De-sexualized through it’s anonymity and instead reinforcing the notion that a sexy woman is never interesting but an interesting woman is always sexy - an idea nearly lost on us today as we invest further in our streamed identities where we’re all cam girls and we’re all sex workers - every detail from the textiles to the patterns to the colors begged to be both concealing and intriguing. The art of giving nothing away while drawing everyone in.
“When not worn these pieces are totally flat,” read the back wall at the Spring/Summer 1998 runway presentation while men in white atelier jackets lined the catwalk holding hangers displaying each piece from the collection. Designed to be totally two dimensional unless worn by a human body, the clothes were an example of what expert pattern making and deep conceptual thinking can create. To remove the human body from the clothes, notably at a time when booking a supermodel for your runway show could make or break your brand, was both an experiment in perception and a critique of fashion. It was loudly saying that the clothes should speak for themselves and the design is a unanimous effort by the team, not merely the celebrity designer.
The team, not the individual, was a theme throughout Margiela’s twenty years of design. Constantly questioning the conventions of fashion, most notably as a brand without branding relying on four white stitches to identity where a namesake label would otherwise go, Margiela has pioneered this concept of fashion sans body - or rather, fashion sans excessive individuality equally prevalent in the 90’s as it is today. The functionality and wearability of a pant is more important than the branding we’ve been trained to seek out. The ambiguity of a tee is more elevated in its concept when it stifles the noise of the wearer.
A fashion brand without a figure is perhaps more relevant today than ever - the detachment of the body from the brand, the person from the clothes, and the realization that anonymity forces us to be more interesting - art forms undoubtedly perfected by Margiela himself.
Writing by Rachel Misick (@rachelmisick)