Maison Martin Margiela, the eponymous Paris-based fashion house known for its rough avant-garde couture, understated branding and mysterious leading man (the Belgian designer almost never makes public appearances and you'd be hard pressed to find a photograph) is the fascinating and inspired subject of a new exhibition at the MoMu Fashion Museum in Antwerp.
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Maison Martin Margiela, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in October, is at once an illustrious part of the global fashion consciousness and a quirky anomaly proudly distinct from it. It is a brand driven by product and sheer invention rather than hype, fad, or celebrity. Four exposed white stitches attaching a clean label to the inside of each garment, a trademark aesthetic, is the only outward brand insignia, a subtle nod to those in the know.
The new exhibition is less a traditional retrospective than a visual examination of the themes that have underpinned the brand since its inception, from its deconstructivist, subversive design aesthetic to the esoteric numeric labelling, the unusual store fit-outs, the clinical, lab coat-clad sales clerks, and of course the clothes themselves. Even in the absence of a photograph, one gains a solid picture of the designer: a man who, among other things, clearly prefers to let his work do the talking.