In April 1997, Belgian designer Martin Margiela was announced as the new creative director of France’s historic luxury fashion house Hermès. Since 1988, the designer had been making a name for himself as a pioneer of deconstruction, presenting clothes that were supposed to be worn back to front, or shoes that had split toes or came taped to feet. Having never given a formal interview, the near-anonymous Margiela was the antithesis of the celebrity designers of the day, making his appointment a truly intriguing choice for the press: how would Margiela deconstruct the classics of Hermès – its famous hue of orange, the Kelly bag, and patterned carré silk scarves? “They were having fantasies of Martin cutting the Kelly in two,” explains Kaat Debo, Director at Antwerp’s MoMu fashion museum and curator of the new Margiela: The Hermès Years exhibition, which opens this week.
What Margiela actually debuted for AW98 was remarkably tame in comparison. Instead of avant-garde concepts, the focus was on quality, inspired by 1920s sports and leisure clothing, and over the course of his tenure, the designer pioneered a timeless wardrobe; clothes that wouldn’t be dated by patterns or bright colours. The press, frankly, didn’t really get it: even with a booklet to explain the innovations of each item, they expected garments that looked spectacular to the person looking up at the runway rather than felt incredible to the model wearing them. The brilliance of Margiela’s work for Hermès was a quiet one, imbued with an incredible respect for women and a desire for them to feel happy, comfortable, and unrestricted in their clothes. In the years since 2003, it’s faded into fashion history somewhat.
From Dazed & Confused