The Style Decoded

A Margiela Moment

A new documentary takes us time travelling, back to the iconic brand’s seminal Eighties moments. We dissect a few of Maison Margiela’s most recognisable signature elements.

by Siska Lyssens

Exposed construction

Like any true artistic master, Martin Margiela understood the ins and outs of tailoring, having studied at the prestigious Royal Academy of Antwerp. That knowledge proved crucial in his mission to question and expose the written and unwritten rules of fashion, in both conceptual and technical ways. Deconstruction, as this mechanism is named, references the production process of a garment. Margiela highlighted this process by creating pieces that externalised seams and linings, or that referenced the materials of a dressmaker’s dummy. Most famously, a Maison Margiela item can be recognised by the four white stitches at the back of garments, indicating the placement of the label inside.
MoMu Antwerp, Ronald Stoops

Cultivated classic

Unsurprisingly, for somebody with such a thorough training, Martin Margiela fostered a deep fondness for the traditional art of tailoring and its archetypal pieces. From pinstripe trousers and sharp blazers to white shirts and jeans, Margiela has remade them all, always very classic at first sight, and always with a distinctive twist, often in the guise of an oversized or slightly awkward proportion. Today, you can still count on Maison Margiela for the perfect cardigan or jacket.
Maison Margiela AW16

Trompe l’oeil

Even so, another of Margiela’s pet concepts was to give his audience the illusion of looking at something real, when in fact it’s just a decorative effect. Trompe l’oeil permeates most Margiela’s collections, sometimes subtly, sometimes comically. Boots that give the impression of the wearer only walking in skin tone tights, dresses in jersey printed with sequins to glittering effect, a heeled boot whose sole seems to be floating in thin air. On the less wearable side of the spectrum: geometric planes, flattened at the sleeves, back or front of a silhouette gives the impression of looking at a sandwich board from the sides.
Maison Margiela AW16

Whitewashed

Walk into a Maison Margiela store – notably the early one in Brussels – and you’ll have the peculiar impression of having walked straight into a paintwork site. White covers everything from floors to walls, furniture is covered as with white bedsheets. The idea of the blank canvas held much weight for Margiela, and in his collections, full white looks recur like clockwork, sometimes even obscuring the model’s face to emphasise her anonymous.
MoMu Antwerp, Ronald Stoops

The Tabi boot

Based on the design of the traditional Japanese split-toed sock, the Tabi boot is arguably Martin Margiela’s most recognisable design. Making its first appearance in his very first show in Paris in 1989, the shoe is at once intriguing and strangely familiar. That first show, Margiela soaked his model’s Tabi boots in red paint, so that they would leave an unusual footprint behind on the white catwalk. Today, the Tabi boot is produced in many different variations, from sporting a plexiglass heel – creating the illusion of an invisible shoe – to completely painted white – just like Margiela’s early stores and showrooms.
MoMu Antwerp, Ronald Stoops

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