One of My Favorite Designers: Martin Margiela

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Martin Margiela was one of the original Antwerp Six, the group of Belgian designers who took the fashion world by storm in the 1980s, though his association with the group was shortlived. Twenty odd years later, some have become fashion icons, while others have remained relatively obscure (raise your hand if you recognize Walter van Beirendonck’s “Wild and Lethal Trash” line.) Margiela, for a long time considered a fashion “outlaw”, as Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune has called him, a designer’s designer, is under the ownership of Staff, SPA, whose flagship holding is Diesel, and who also owns DSquared. As this article is being written, a Margiela store is gearing up to open in Los Angeles, and from the buzz I’ve heard, his vintage informed, deconstructed clothing is sure to do well.

These days, the Maison Margiela brand saturates the media, both print and internet, but when I first got into him, he was still pretty obscure, known for his reclusiveness as well as for his remarkably flattering tee-shirts and his unique, white canvas labels attached at the 4 corners which simply had 3 rows of numbers, with the circled number distinguishing to which line a piece belonged. Lots of pieces could be found at the Desert Springs Barneys outlet in Cabazon, and I would doubt if most people gave his stuff a second glance. I was always most interested in the 0 10 line, which was the “artisanal” line, with lots of pieces constructed of vintage clothing, but the 10 line, the main men’s line, was typically easier to digest. The object of my consumer desire, for years, was his perennial leather rider’s jacket. I nearly broke down one time and shelled out the $650 that was half of retail back in around 2000 for the red-brown version, but my need to eat and pay rent persuaded me otherwise. His collections often had a vintage, but not kitschy nor nostalgic feel, to them. The colors were often muted, washed out greys and earth tones often dominated, and the cuts were often drapier and more relaxed even as everyone else seemed to be going towards razor sharp silhouettes and architectural shapes. I heard his look once described as “grad student” chic. I never knew any grad students that cool. (We were all too poor. If I had that Rider’s jacket, for example, I would have had to sleep on the street.)

The Fall/Winter 2007 collection that you will be seeing in stores this coming season is a little flashier than earlier collections. The cuts and colors are very recognizably Margiela. Sports jackets, for example, have high gorges and a low button stance. A dark brown bomber jacket has an elastic waist. A puffer vest is in a washed kelly green color. A lot of the pieces have the character of something old being brought out and used again. But there are a lot more formalwear pieces. A long shawl collar dinner coat and a dinner jacket play a large role. Maybe the grad student has finished his dissertation at last, and has bought an old tuxedo to celebrate in.


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Fok-Yan Leung can be found discussing men’s style at Styleforum.net.