This summer, Somerset House gives you a rare opportunity to see 20 years of Maison Martin Margiela, curated in the most intelligent way by Kaat Debo, Creative Director at MoMu Fashion Museum, and Bob Verhelst, scenographer. Bob Verhelst was once part of Maison Martin Margiela and thus immersed in the spirit of the fashion house.
The design and thought that has gone into the presentation is obvious. Displayed in the Embankment Galleries of Somerset House, the collection is laid out in a series of rooms, each the essence of the Margiela spirit. A graduate of Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Martin Margiela formerly worked as design assistant to Jean Paul Gaultier before showing his first collection under his own label in 1988.  Employing a ‘deconstructivist’ approach – monochromatic palette, outsized garments, non-traditional fabrics, the use of recycled materials and exposing the construction of his clothes – Margiela displayed a radically new visual language that diametrically opposed the power dressing of the 1980’s. His first collection showed narrow shoulders and long skirts in daring opposition to the shoulder pads and mini skirts that ruled the 80’s, surely a design moment to rival that of Christian Dior’s New Look in 1947.
Walking through the exhibition you are constantly reminded how thoroughly Margiela changed our perceptions of what fashion should be. I really like the fact that we aren’t shown a chronological order of shows, instead every season have been mixed up. This was done on purpose to underline the fact Maison Martin Margiela is not about trends or seasons per se; rather about letting the design of the garments evolve in a very organic way. In the ‘Birthday Room’, 3 projections on the back wall show 3 long term devotees to the aesthetic of the Maison styling and modelling their collections in a simple straight-up style. True to the Margiela spirit and their penchant for ‘street casting’ for shows, these 3 are not your typical fashion models yet all the more beautiful and endearing for it. Despite presumably being from a lifetime’s worth of collecting, all the garments looked contemporary and underscored the owner’s personality in the most exquisite fashion. I’ve always liked Maison Martin Margiela’s sensibility but walking away from this exhibition with my head throbbing from all the ideas and the sheer visuality of it, I really felt as if I’d been shown the notion of intelligent design in a completely different way.

Words by Anna Bang

At Somerset House 3rd June – 5th September, 2010


Maison Martin Margiela can make even caravans look desirable


Example of the ‘Replica’ garments, reproductions of archetypal, second-hand garments from different style periods


Over the past two decades, Maison Martin Margiela has introduced countless variations on the garments that make up the standard of Western fashion. Obvious examples are the trench, the white shirt and jeans. You will definitely want a trench coat as part of your basic wardrobe after seeing this exhibition


Selection of iconic silver chromed ‘Tabi’ footwear


The use of paint to cover materials and garments is a leit motif in Maison Martin Margiela’s work. The layer of white paint creates the illusion of a neutral canvas. When the garment is worn, the paint will slowly start to crack and flake, thus making the original color and texture visible again


Three-dimensional group portrait of Maison Martin Margiela in Styrofoam


In several collections, Maison Martin Margiela has deviated from the standardised body size as prescribed by fashion. Part of the jewellery collection inspired by the XXXL concept

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anna bang, Kaat Debo, Maison Martin Margiela, Somerset House,