We Margiela: In fashion, trying to please everyone you will get nowhere

A documentary on Belgian designer Martin Margiela, a man who never gave interviews

Film still from We Margiela documentary: Jenny Meirens surveys a group photograph of the Marigiela team.

Film still from We Margiela documentary: Jenny Meirens surveys a group photograph of the Marigiela team.

 

“I used to think that the fashion industry made you feel very old, very poor and very fat,” said Menna Laura Meijer of Mint Films, director of We Margiela the first feature length documentary on the groundbreaking and enigmatic Belgian fashion designer Martin Margiela, at its premiere in Rotterdam last Sunday.  “That was until I met this group of people (the team around the designer) who were so friendly and whose story became the genesis of the house.”  

The film focuses on the dynamics of this group who speak frankly about their role and Margiela, who founded the house in 1989 and famously never gave interviews or allowed himself to be photographed. Irish man Patrick Scallon (now communications director of Dries Van Noten) was spokesman for the house which was sold to Diesel owner Renzo Rosso in 2008 in the face of financial pressures and the ultimate disillusionment of its founders.

Margiela and the Look

A model presents a creation for Maison Margiela during the women’s 2018 spring/summer ready-to-wear collection fashion show in Paris, on September 27th, 2017. Photograph: Getty Images
A model presents a creation for Maison Margiela during the women’s 2018 spring/summer ready-to-wear collection fashion show in Paris, on September 27th, 2017. Photograph: Getty Images

The 90-minute film concentrates on the testimonies of the collective (who always dressed in white lab coats) and their unconventional working methods led by Margiela’s co-founder Jenny Meirens. She was pivotal to We Margiela’s approach and style. It reveals the creative processes and risks this institution took which, long before its time, was casting amateur models and using recycled vintage clothing and eccentric locations for its presentations – and for which it was often ridiculed.

These avant garde collections challenged accepted notions of fashion and taste of the time – duvet coats that came with their own covers, the split-toed Tabi boots based on Japanese workwear (often repainted and reused in other collections), Stockman jackets and deconstructed tuxedos. One commentator described the clothes as “sometimes cheeky, sometimes classy – elegant, inventive and playful”.  All items carried a blank white label – Meiren’s idea of subverting the usual brand labels denoting designer status. The four white stitches at each corner were visible only from the outside.

Runway success

Model behaviour: walking the runway during the Maison Margiela show as part of the Paris fashion week womenswear spring/summer 2018 on September 27th, 2017. Photograph: Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images
Model behaviour: walking the runway during the Maison Margiela show as part of the Paris fashion week womenswear spring/summer 2018 on September 27th, 2017. Photograph: Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images

Margiela now lives in Paris. Meirens who was interviewed for the documentary but not filmed, died last July. Her voiceover is presented against a white screen as she talks about Margiela and their joint commitment to counteracting the fashion system. “To me Martin is an artist. He uses fashion as a way to express himself,” she says. “When you want to please others and everyone, you will get nowhere.”

We Margiela reunited

Members of the original We Margiela creative team reunited at the screening of the film premiere in Rotterdam.
Members of the original We Margiela creative team reunited at the screening of the film premiere in Rotterdam.

When today’s fashion industry is dominated by international corporate powers – against which small independent fashion houses struggle for existence and when social media would certainly make efforts at invisibility and anonymity, impossible – this documentary has resonance and relevance for a new generation.

Companies like Vetements and others draw influence from Margiela today and with a retrospective of the designer’s work taking place in Paris in the new year, We Margiela is a well-timed record of one of the most influential fashion houses of our times.

The documentary is being screened all over Holland and Belgium during October followed by Milan, Shanghai, St Petersberg, Tailinn and Tel Aviv.

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