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.
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.