Martin Margiela was born on April 9 1957 in Genk, Belgium. He first got the fashion world thinking in 1989 with a collection that challenged what luxury could be. Applying 'grunge' techniques such as deconstruction, recycling and raw finishes, in an intelligent and sleek manner, his ideas provoked shock and intrigue. In a rejection of mass media culture, Margiela became an anonymous design hand and has hardly ever been photographed or interviewed. Working under the collective 'Maison Martin Margiela' for over 20 years, Margiela left the label in 2009, however a 'faceless' team continue to produce surreal and challenging collections.
In a rare interview with Sphere in 1983, Margiela talked about his first fashion experience. "I was watching the TV news and there was an item about (Paco) Rabanne and (André) Courrèges. As soon as I saw their designs I thought, 'how wonderful, people are doing the sort of thing I want to do'." Margiela graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp in 1979. Today he is considered an honorary member of the 'Antwerp Six', the ground-breaking group of designers that emerged from the academy in 1980, including Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten. This wave of talent is credited with pushing the fashion industry beyond Paris, New York, London and Milan, kick-starting today's global marketplace.
In 1984 Martin moved to Paris to work as a design assistant to Jean Paul Gaultier. "I already knew he was good, but I didn't realise to what extent," Gaultier later said. Margiela founded his eponymous label in 1988, provoking instant reaction with his first collection. "It was really a shock for everybody to see Margiela's first silhouettes... you realised that he was much more advanced than everybody else," designer Bob Verhelst, told Icon in 2009. Martin Margiela won the very first ANDAM fellowship in 1989, a now prestigious prize that has since been awarded to Viktor and Rolf, Richard Nicoll, Gareth Pugh and Giles Deacon.
In an unexpected move, iconoclast Margiela became womenswear director of classic design house Hermès in 1997. "When (Jean-Louis Dumas, chairman of Hermes, and I) first met, he asked me anxiously if I was going to cut the Kelly in half because, at the time, the press used the words grunge and destroy to describe my work," the designer told Grazia in a rare statement.
Margiela launched his first menswear collection in 1998, known as line 10. Every new product range is given a number from 0 to 23, acting as a referencing code rather than a chronological order. The original tags were blank white labels, hand tacked with four white stitches that could be seen from the outside of the garment - a symbol of cool for those in-the-know. The ranges have expanded to include fine jewellery (12), footwear (22), eyewear (8), objects (13) and fragrance (3).
In 2002 Maison Martin Margiela became a public company with the majority share acquired by Diesel Group owner Renzo Russo. Margiela stepped down from his role at Hermès in 2003, and was ironically succeeded by his former mentor, Jean Paul Gaultier. In March 2006, Margiela presented a critically acclaimed collection where perfectly tailored trouser suits were made from seventies upholstery fabrics and car seatbelts were used to draw in silhouettes. His work with unconventional materials is renowned and other hits have included tops patch-worked from vintage leather gloves, cleft-toe boots and jewellery made of coloured ice, dyeing the clothes as it melted. The designer's presentation methods have been equally brilliant, as one show challenged editors and buyers to seat themselves according to their perceived importance, while another saw models wheeled out on trolleys.
The Chambre Syndicale invited Maison Martin Margiela to show their first haute couture collection on the official Paris schedule in May 2006, an acknowledgement of true excellence and craftsmanship. In 2008, 20 a retrospective of the Maison's work opened at the Fashion Museum Province of Antwerp. In October 2009 it was announced that Margiela had resigned from his position as creative director at the Maison, although insiders suggested that he had been 'absent' for a while. Rumours circulated that he had disagreed with the commercial drive of the new Diesel ownership and felt that the Maison was sacrificing its authenticity and exclusivity in favour of becoming a globally recognised brand. In the months that followed the question of who could replace Margiela became a hot topic, with Raf Simons and Haider Ackermann reportedly turning down offers to become the successor. It was confirmed in December 2009 that no successor would be appointed at Maison Martin Margiela.
A new anonymous design team was brought in and, while every competing company has a famous face at the helm, the collective 'Maison' has developed its own counter-personality working together ever since. The 20 retrospective moved to London's Somerset House in June 2010 with a party attended by many of the designer's more recognisable peers and acolytes. The big question of the evening was whether the 'invisible' designer himself was present. 'Moving freely among (the celebrity-filled crowd) was that balding, grey-haired gent. Was it Margiela? Well, that assumes all Martin had to do was remove his signature cap to pass as One of Us,' Style.Com's Tim Blanks reported. In July 2011 the collective Maison turned their hands to interior design, fitting a series of concept hotel suites at La Maison Champs Elysées in Paris. "The decor is like a succession of stage sets where references are mixed so as to create an unusual atmosphere," a nameless Margiela spokesperson told us at the time.
On June 12 2012 Maison Martin Margiela announced their first ever high street collaboration with H&M. The capsule collection, hitting stores on November 15, features archive Margiela pieces revised for the high street. In a typically abstract move, the announcement was made in the form of an anonymous C.V., with two short film clips later being released.
For the October 2012 issue of British Vogue, Market Editor, Emma Elwick-Bates, visited the Maison's Parisian atelier, a former convent where an abandoned supermarket checkout now forms a reception desk and anonymous workers wear sterile white lab coats. The design team have been located here since 2005.
Margiela's radical concepts have influenced everybody from Azzedine Alaïa to Alexander McQueen."Anybody who's aware of what life is in a contemporary world is influenced by Margiela," Marc Jacobs told Women's Wear Daily in 2008.