"Fluidity" is a word Martin Margiela repeteadly mentioned in a British Vogue interview with Suzy Menkes. Last year, a retrospective of his tenure at Hermès was presented at Antwerp's MoMu, now on tour in Sweden until March 2019.
I think Martin Margiela may have been the first 'designer's designer' to create pieces that caught my attention. Long before my obsession with neutral tones and elastic-waist pants, I was a child who gravitated to stasis and bland, subdued normalcy in all things. I had a bowl cut for the majority of my prepubescent youth. And each new school year was marked with a new pair of nondescript Bass sneakers with white rubber soles and robin's egg blue canvas uppers.
Sometime in the mid 2000's, I came across Martin Margiela's name mentioned in a profile of designer Jas MB. He said something about having a Margiela leather jacket. I had no context for either of these names, but I did have a love of Wikipedia and Google-driven research. I came across a visual language that still resonates with me, albeit with some exceptions for all those Tabi silhouettes that I still can't conceive of wearing.
His silhouettes were the platonic ideals of things, but with an uncanny valley attention to form and detail. Not just extra sleeves or objects "with a twist." There was a subtle, kind of funny self awareness in the white, primer painted interior spaces and recontextualized garments. I think I also loved the anonymity that comes with clothing that looks like it could have come from the bottom of a plastic bin at a thrift store off South Street.
Around the start of the new millennium, Martin Margiela was designing for Hermès, the venerable French fashion house whose 'Birkin' bag still carries a four or five digit price tag even when sold secondhand. Far from a marriage of opposing values, Margiela's tenure at Hermès embodied something that still hasn't been replicated successfully. The Row and Lemaire come astonishingly close, but any brand that operates in 2018 has to contend with the unending glare of glowing screens everywhere. Margiela pour Hermès had the luxury of relative anonymity, probably to the designer's liking.
The clothes themselves are likely unparalleled: evoking Margiela's sculptural 'weirdness,' but backed by the craftsmanship for which Hermès became legendary. In keeping with his own internal culture of references, Martin Margiela brought resurrected the house's 1970's logos for tags and other branded elements. Nothing was overlooked -- even the surgeon's cuff buttons of a jacket sleeve were sewed with stitching in the shape of a capital "H".
Yet at the time, the clothes on the runway were interpreted as "boring and banal," if not self-indulgent. But then again, isn't that the point of a thousand-dollar deep v-neck pullover jacket rendered in the world's softest cashmere? This was the pre-Goop woman -- the pre social media flâneuse urbanites the world over see out of the corners of their eyes, draped in something all at once indescribable and covetable. She's performative, but in a way that reads as "just enough."