We Margiela


We Margiela

We Margiela tells the untold and intimate story of the enigmatic and singular fashion house Maison Martin Margiela. For the first time co-founder Jenny Meirens and members of the creative team that formed the heart of the house speak about the creative processes and unique philosophy of Margiela. Their stories, told through detailed and intimate interviews, give unprecedented insight in the genesis of one of the most influential fashion houses of our time. The film investigates the legacy of Margiela and its relevance for fashion and authorship today. The unique innovations of the house, such as anonymity, re-usage, ‘we’ versus ‘I,’ and replica versus copy, turn out to be central concepts of our time. As the history of the house is told in parallel to the creative development and financial growth of Maison Martin Margiela, the film unravels notions of creativity, authorship, and financial return in our neoliberal times. However, the insights of We Margiela are not self-evident. Interviews will reveal that many, now iconic images and notions of the Maison came into existence by coincidence and intuition, not preconceived concepts. The house was managed by strong gut-feelings and a deep pleasure in taking creative risks. As co-founder, Meirens states: ‘When you want to please others and everyone, you will get nowhere. I think you have to diversify yourself from others. In the long run, it will give you the freedom not to answer to the system.’ Ultimately, Maison Martin Margiela, was one of the earliest contemporary avant-garde fashion houses to succumb to the pressure of financial growth. After the selling of the house, the founders retired almost immediately from public life. Both employees and aficionados were left disillusioned. Meirens and Margiela never spoke to one another again.

The Team Who Put the ‘We’ Into ‘We Margiela’

As the much-anticipated documentary on the workings of one of fashion’s most elusive institutions premieres in Rotterdam, Susannah Frankel considers the power of anonymity in a world which rarely allows it

There is a famous image of the team at Maison Martin Margiela that was captured by Annie Leibovitz and published in 2001 in US Vogue. Including everyone from the sales and communication people to the design studio, no more than around 50 people feature, lined up wearing the signature blouses blanches (loosely translated as white coats) that were – and still are – the uniform of the house. The image is most remarkable for the fact that one little white chair in the front row is empty. Located between Jenny Meirens, Martin Margiela’s creative and business partner with whom he founded the business in 1988, and Patrick Scallon, the house’s communications director from 1993 to 2008, it was the place reserved for Margiela himself who failed to appear. Leibovitz has, let’s face it, photographed more wide-angled superstar line-ups than most and was, reportedly, none too pleased about this particular no-show. The end result of Martin Margiela’s absence, though, couldn’t have led to a more masterful encapsulation of the spirit of the place in question and the way in which it functioned.

With that in mind, the “We” in the We Margiela, a much-anticipated documentary on the workings of this fashion institution, directed by Mint Film Office and premiering at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen on Sunday, refers to, as Scallon himself puts it in the film: “everything around the clothes… The ‘We’ existed on one floor of the house that had a creative director on the top floor.” And that creative director was Margiela himself, a designer who eschewed the spotlight as if his very existence depended on it. It is highly unlikely that he would have been afforded the luxury of so-doing today. Neither – and more importantly – would he have been allowed such creative freedom without the ‘We’ part of the equation. Because the ‘We’ allowed Margiela to function in a way that is unprecedented, never being interviewed or photographed, rarely interested in the business side of things and supported by an inner circle of men and women who were as gifted as they were loyal.

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