Man and Mission

Martin Margiela’s legacy at Hermès is now on display as the subject of an exhibition at the MoMu Fashion Museum Antwerp.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Martin Margiela’s legacy at Hermès is now on display as the subject of an exhibition at the MoMu Fashion Museum Antwerp.

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In all the years Martin Margiela spent shaking up the foundations of fashion, he operated under a veil of anonymity. Despite the air of mystery surrounding him, few other living designers have left as profound an impact on fashion as much as Margiela; his predilection for the conceptual continues to be practised on today’s runways by other designers deeply influenced by his aesthetic. 

Sentimentality for Margiela is now at an all-time high. With the swift rise of Parisian label Vetements and its design collective headed by Demna Gvasalia (whose point-of-view is said to be shaped by Margiela’s having worked there for three-and-a-half years), an exhibition by the MoMu Fashion Museum Antwerp focusing on Margiela’s time at Hermès couldn’t have come at a better time. Titled “Margiela: The Hermès Years,” the exhibition at MoMu is no mere retrospective—it also studies the relationship between the Belgian designer’s works for the French brand and that of his own label. 

Margiela’s six-year tenure is significant on many counts. The gutsy decision by the late Jean-Louis Dumas, then CEO of Hermès, to install Margiela as Creative Director in 1997 proved to be a farsighted one. In the 12 collections that ensued, Margiela defined a long-lasting identity for the Hermès woman—one with a deep regard for tailoring, craftsmanship and the smart use of rich materials—which can still be seen today. “Margiela not only thought about how women would move and live in his clothing, but he also observed them closely and listened to how they spoke about their bodies,” wrote Kaat Debo, the museum’s director, in a book that will be launched 

together with the exhibition. “During countless fittings, he bombarded his models with questions. He not only wanted to know if the garments were comfortable and felt good, but he also asked them to carry out certain movements, such as walking, turning, taking off the garment, sitting down or putting their hands in their pockets, something that surprised the models, because it was so unusual.” 

Margiela, for all his non-conformist leanings, was about constructing clothes that were meant to be lived in. “His designs are entirely at the service of this changing body, their exclusive purpose to support and strengthen the woman, at whatever age, in her beauty, elegance and self-assurance,” added Debo. It is but one of the many expressions of luxury, and the reason why Margiela’s austere version aligned beautifully to the Hermès universe and continues to influence fashion today.

“Margiela: The Hermès Years” runs from 31 March to 27 August, 2017, at MoMu Fashion Museum Antwerp. Visit