It’s funny that Martin Margiela‘s tenure at Hermès suddenly appeared on everybody’s lips after this year’s exhibition at Antwerp’s MoMu It took nearly two decades for the fashion industry to wholeheartedly appreciate the Belgian visionary’s contribution at the maison, that’s probably most associated with very-rich-women kind of ‘luxury’. At his eponymous label, Maison Martin Margiela, the famously anonymous designer used to redefine such terms as ‘avant-garde’ and ‘minimalist’ in one single garment – meanwhile at Hermès, it was a different philosophy. Tranquil, understated and low-key – that’s how the guests of his shows at Rue Saint-Honoré flagship store (12 in overall, between 1998 and 2002) described the atmosphere. So were the clothes, kept mostly in black, beige or navy. Fashion tends to forget its references, and as you can clearly see in images below, it wasn’t Phoebe Philo at Céline, Christophe Lemaire (he designed for Hermès before the current creative director, Nadège Vanhée-Cybulski) or The Row who were first to decide on making a perfectly tailored camel coat the focus of their collections.
For Margiela, ready-to-wear with a Hermès tag had to be of the best quality materials, made with the biggest attention to details (no flashy embroideries meant here) and with the aim to be worn for the next 20 years. This is what actual ‘luxury’ in fashion meant to Martin, even though he would never use that stabby and deprived of its meaning word. For a brief moment, Hermès was more than fancy foulards and bags (note: for spring-summer 2000, Margiela casted Jane Birkin as the show’s model, making a nod to, guess what, the Birkin bag). It was about the clothes, too, and very well constructed clothes: warm cashmere sweaters, crisp white shirts, masculine blazers, eternally chic black gowns. And sneakers – remember, we’re speaking of 90s / beginning of 00s, when only stilettos mattered on Parisian catwalks. There’s no surprise his shows weren’t received that well. Many thought that Hermès was just ‘boring’ with Martin’s conservative approach: those were the 90s, after all, and fashion loved FASHION. The time has shown, however, that those who bought Margiela’s Hèrmes were the smart ones. Finding pieces from that era is quite a struggle, and when you find anything, the prices are killer. Martin Margiela is an acclaimed designer for more than one reason, but his underrated creative direction and aesthetic at Hermès is… timeless.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.