More than 13 years after leaving fashion, Martin Margiela, the elusive and highly influential Belgian designer who changed the way we dress in the ’90s is back. But not as part of a wave of nostalgic tendency. As an artist.
On October 20, Mr. Margiela’s first untitled personal exhibition opens at Lafayette Anticipations – Fondation d’entreprise Galeries Lafayette in Paris. Like Margiela’s clothes, which deconstructed the notions of tailor and beauty through unconventional materials and approaches, the exhibition creates a wonder around the banal through some forty sculptures, collages, paintings, installations and more. movies. It’s almost as if Mr. Margiela sees the world through the lens of a photographic negative, pointing out details most of us never see and demanding that they be reconsidered.
“I became obsessed with fashion very early in my life and developed my own vision by presenting it in the most conceptual way possible,” Mr Margiela, now 64, wrote in an e -mail. (The designer never showed his face or gave an in-person interview during his stint in fashion, and he hasn’t changed his approach now.) “
According to Patrick Scallon, artistic and communication director of Maison Martin Margiela from 1993 to 2008, Mr. Margiela’s transition to art is not unexpected. “The approach to the show, the invitation, the clothes themselves, have always been artistic,” he said of his time there. “But we have always been loath to call it art because it is limited to the use and function of clothing. We were in a commercial and industrial process.
It was Mr. Margiela’s decision to leave this process in 2009. “Everything was immediately broadcast on the Internet,” he explained in the 2019 documentary “Margiela in His Own Words.” (Fashion group OTB, which acquired its company in 2002, renamed it Maison Margiela, and since 2014 its collections have been designed by John Galliano.)
By changing his creative field as fashion industrialized, he followed in the footsteps of famous designers like Thierry Mugler, who now describes himself as a director-perfumer-photographer (among others); Christian Lacroix, who used his tailoring skills to design opera and ballet costumes after losing the rights to his name in 2009; and Helmut Lang, who is now a full time artist.
In fact, it was Mr. Lang who kicked off Mr. Margiela’s next act by inviting him to present one of his first works of art – a plaster cast of a jacket that ‘he produced in 1989 – as part of an exhibition that Mr. Lang was curating. at the Deste Foundation in Athens in 2009.
“Whatever the original intention behind the play, it exemplifies Martin Margiela as the visionary man he always has been,” Lang wrote in the accompanying publication. “His work was much more than fashion or clothing. I also see the white surface of the plaster as a chance for a fresh start, which a stagnant industry will need to stay interesting and maintain a good appreciation for creative ideas to champion fashion derivatives.
To further guide him in his career transition, Mr. Margiela worked with Belgian art historian Chris Dercon, president of the French cultural association RMN-Grand Palais in Paris. Mr. Dercon, who oversees 18 museums as well as the glass dome monument on the Champs-Élysées and is one of the few people to have met Mr. Margiela in person.
Mr. Dercon organized the first exhibition of Mr. Margiela’s clothing in 1997 at the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam; in 2009 he brought the two-decade retrospective of Maison Martin Margiela from the MoMu Fashion Museum in Antwerp to Haus der Kunst in Munich; and in 2018, he met Mr. Margiela in person in his Parisian studio. Since then, he has continued to visit her almost every week.
“We have had a series of criticisms,” Mr. Dercon said. “I didn’t hesitate to say whether it was good or bad, necessary or unnecessary, a contribution or not. I showed him the work of other artists and warned him that he was not alone. He’s such a gifted designer and maker, but I encouraged him to push the boundaries of technique.
In 2019, they set up a private exhibition in an apartment and invite around twenty people. Frank Demaegd, the founder of Zeno X Gallery in Antwerp who now represents M. Margiela, was there, as was graphic designer Irma Boom, who collaborates with M. Margiela on the exhibition catalog. The apartment itself belonged to the Galeries Lafayette Group, which is how the current show was born.
At Lafayette Anticipations, visitors enter through the emergency exit behind the foundation, and access the different floors by a service elevator or stairs usually closed to the public. The layout is labyrinthine; some of the galleries are divided by floor-to-ceiling office shades.
“This show is about time a lot – the passing of time, the ways in which we resist time, or how we accept it,” said Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel, the curator of the exhibition, “Martin really wanted to avoid producing anything that would be related to his fashion.
One of the works, “Vanitas, ” for example, is composed of five silicone spheres imitating the skin, each implanted with hairs of different colors ranging from blond to brown through gray, to explore the effects of time on the body. For “Triptych, ” Mr. Margiela painstakingly reproduced an image of a package of beard dye in oil paint, each panel demonstrating the shade that can be achieved based on the natural color. (As the son of a hairdresser, Mr. Margiela has always had a special fascination with hair.)
Other works enhance the in-between of life. “Bus Shelter” is just that, only covered in a layer of faux fur and reverently installed inside a giant storefront. “Monument” wraps an entire foundation wall with a trompe l’oeil print of a building, like those used to hide historic monuments during a renovation.
“There is always a danger that people will look at his art and only see the famous designer,” Mr. Dercon said of Mr. Margiela. “But his work is so intriguing and precise.”
All of the works on display at Lafayette Anticipations will be for sale, with prices starting from around 10,000 euros (around $ 11,600) for small sculptures that come in an edition of three and up to around 120,000 euros (139,400 $) for larger -a-kind pieces.
“We have generated a lot of interest since announcing our performance of Margiela,” said Nina Hendrickx, Director of Zeno X Gallery. “But we would like to focus as much as possible on selling the work to art museums and public institutions, or at least to private collectors with public spaces, before the prices go up.”
The exhibition is scheduled to tour internationally, most likely starting in China, and Mr. Margiela is included in the Zeno X gallery booth at the FIAC art fair in Paris (October 21-24). Beyond that, the RMN-Grand Palais and the Louvre have commissioned an original work, and an exhibition at the Eenwerk gallery in Amsterdam is scheduled for later this year.
In this creative blossoming, like the release of “Margiela in His Own Words”, the art exhibition is yet another step for Mr. Margiela in reclaiming and shaping his own heritage. So, will he shock the world and make an appearance at any of the upcoming events?
“Martin will not be attending,” Dercon said. “His anonymity gave him absolute freedom. But I wonder how long he will be able to maintain it.
The works of Martin Margiela will be exhibited at Lafayette Anticipations – Galeries Lafayette Corporate Foundation from October 20 to January 2, 2022.