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Opinion: averaging the avant-garde

By sending flea market junk, tattoos and found textiles down the runway, has Margiela redefined haute couture?

Tattoos, trash and trainers. At Haute Couture this week, the unremarkable became the desirable, the everyday was elevated, and street suddenly a word muttered under the same breath as les petites mains. Even Christian Dior opened its hallowed atelier doors to fashion students to wonder in awe at the gowns in final show preparations. Which no doubt made going home to pot noodle even more poignant.

At Maison Martin Margiela Artisanal, the obsessive hoarder ostracised by society emerged in headdresses dripping with tarnished silver, beads and broken pearl necklaces. The ‘small found objects’ were sourced from flea markets in Paris and Brussels, one sleeveless suit embroidered with such objects took 65 hours to create. Like the priceless trinkets seeped in nostalgia that gather dust on your nan’s mantelpiece, Margiela elevated trash to treasure and got us inspired to spend next weekend foraging in junk shops for our own piece of Margiela (because what is Haute Couture if it can’t inspire?) What’s better is the thought of Margiela’s trinket laden gown hanging next to the pristine crystal embellished silks of a Couture collector’s wardrobe.

Margiela Artisanal’s tattoo embroideries clustered together to form peeping bodices had an undertone of Americana and sunburnt, burly seamen with dirty laughs – apt considering the maison had based the designs on the Sailor Jerry motifs of tattoo artist Norman Keith Collins. The Russian elite might sneer at an inked heart branded with ‘mom’, but they’ll no doubt stifle their prejudices for this piece and its sequined motifs.

"Maison Martin Margiela Artisanal have caught us off guard, forcing us to look again and rethink our preconceptions"

In a similar vein, at Chanel Haute Couture, street sneakers were treated to a little crystal dust and presented as the it-item of the season. Paired as they were with mother-of-the-bride twinsets and pastel tweeds, Lagerfeld’s spectacle became a combined shopping list for the world’s wealthiest mothers and daughters. But back to Maison Martin Margiela…

Like AW13, where the Maison paired everyman’s denim with a bouquet chest plate of exotic flowers, and reimagined the weekend slob pairing of tee and jeans in sex-shop latex, Maison Martin Margiela Artisanal have caught us off guard, forcing us to look again and rethink our preconceptions of what Haute Couture really means today. The Chinese opera coats and suits they presented this season were made from ornate textiles not dissimilar to the curtains in the windows of our fuddy elderly neighbours. Yet the prints here had in fact been coaxed from the rare archives of Frank Lloyd Wright and Raoul Duffy. To the untrained eye, Haute Couture doesn’t always belie its hefty price tag – and here was an example where you had to be in the know to really know. One man’s trash, an’ all that.