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Gillian Wearing Dazed margiela
Artist Gillian Wearing wears brown sheepskin coat from Maison Martin Margiela AW89 collection, t-shirt from the SS98 collection, and painted white tabi boots from the AW04 collectionPhotography William Seldon, styling Cathy Edwards. Taken from the March 2006 issue of Dazed

Five reasons you need to see the new Margiela exhibition

Spanning 20 years of the elusive designer’s career, Margiela / Galleria, 1989 – 2009 opens in Paris today

Today, a new exhibition dedicated to Belgian designer Martin Margiela opens to the public at the Palais Galliera in Paris. Almost entirely out of sight over the course of his 20 year career, and pretty much unheard of since 2008, when he left the label he founded with the late Jenny Meirens, the elusive Margiela has given the show his official seal of approval. So you know it’s good. Here are five reasons to visit.


Margiela was the exhibition’s artistic director, collaborating with curator Alexandre Samson. His hand is especially present in the composition of the space, which isn’t pristine and white and cotton-wrapped as you might expect from Margiela. Instead, it’s deliberately unfinished, as if it’s still under construction – ladders lean against walls and dripping pots of paint are left sitting around next to rare Artisanal garments. The space is not neutral, the press materials explain, because the spaces where the clothes were designed, made and presented at the time were never neutral. At the very end of the show is a thank you note written on the wall by the designer himself, sharing his appreciation for all those who helped “make his dream a reality”.


Rather than by theme, the exhibition is arranged chronologically. It starts with Margiela’s first runway show for SS89 – where masked models wore tabi boots dipped in red paint and left footprints down a white cotton runway. (Also present is the top MM made from a segment of the runway fabric, the house’s first Artisanal or couture piece). You trace the collections through the 90s, from the AW94 collection which included items taken from doll’s wardrobes and remade to scale (resulting in enormous, disproportionate zips and clasps), to SS96’s famous trompe l’oeil pieces printed with photographs of existing garments and SS97’s ‘Stockman’ dummy looks. Along the way, rare archive footage replays the shows themselves, as well as occasional newsreels which offer contemporary reports on the collection.

“From plastic bag vests to shoes covered in lycra and deconstructed denim, the exhibition proves that in many cases, Martin Margiela got there first”


Like the tabi boots which the public were invited to draw all over at an exhibition in 1990, an Artisanal piece made entirely of the labels taken out of vintage clothes, and a t-shirt from AW94 created to raise awareness for AIDS – one of the fashion world’s first. Then there’s the ephemera: including a pen from SS89, some fake silver nails from AW89, confetti from SS90, ribbons from AW91 and rhinestones from SS92. Pay special attention to the series of time-capsule rooms, inspired by Japanese photographer Kyoichi Tsuzuki’s series Happy Victims, featuring fashion fans in their bedrooms crammed with clothes. There’s a lot to take in in these, from a Margiela-designed (and very tongue in cheek) newspaper to shoeboxes, Barbies, and even a bootleg Smashing Pumpkins cassette.


It’s no secret that designers wilfully pillage Margiela’s archives – Demna Gvasalia even called it ‘the elephant in the room’ at his last Vetements show, where he made his own tabi boots (and made some people very angry in the process). Walking through Margiela’s archives, his originality and innovation is striking – and it’s easy to see how his creations have been looked to by subsequent generations of designers. From plastic bag vests to shoes covered in lycra and deconstructed denim, the exhibition proves that in many cases, Martin Margiela got there first.


One of the most valuable things you’ll take away from the exhibition is an exhilarating sense of creative freedom, something which underpinned all that Margiela did. Read about how the Maison once hosted not just one, but two shows simultaneously and in different locations, with one featuring black clothing and another white. Or how they once eschewed a show entirely to unveil the collection on a group of women in different shop windows around the world, who tore down the white paper covering the glass and revealed themselves to the gathered crowds. A lot of what Margiela did feels very removed from our current age of Instagram-streamed shows, ego-driven fashion and flash in the pan hype, and that alone is enough of a reason to go and see the exhibition; it reminds you what real creativity looks like, and what a beautiful, intelligent, moving, empowering thing fashion can be.