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Amber Cowan Maison Margiela
Courtesy of Amber Cowan

Three artisans reimagine Maison Margiela’s Artisanal Collection 2021

Artists with sustainability and repurposing at the heart of their work – Lyle Reimer, Amber Cowan, and Caroline Achaintre – take inspiration from Maison Margiela’s fantastical collection to create stunning sculptures

Maison Margiela’s 2021 Artisanal co-ed collection is a testament to the revered house’s values – a commitment to craft and imagination, its avant garde vision, a reverence to the transformative power of nature, community, and time. This was explored in A Folk Horror Tale, a 70-minute film which premiered at the Champs Élysées cinema last month, replacing a physical showing of the collection. Maison Margiela’s creative director John Galliano wrote the sinister and alluring feature, with award-winning French filmmaker Olivier Dahan as director, to debut the designs. The film’s unsettling, earthy aesthetic spoke to the collection’s inspirations in folklore and nature under the cloak of night, and played out in the elaborate clothing.

Maison Margiela is once again opening up its world to welcome in a new generation of artisans to be inspired by their latest output. The major themes of the Artisanal Collection 2021 – of old becoming new, alchemic collaboration, nature and time’s enduring powers – act as prompts for three artists commissioned by Dazed Studio.

Lyle Reimer, Amber Cowan, and Caroline Achaintre were asked to reinterpret Maison Margiela’s latest collection and its key themes through each of their respective media: mixed media sculpture, glass blowing, weaving and tapestry. Three films document their processes.

This marks the third collaborative project of Maison Margiela, a house committed to the next generation of artisans and community. Early on in 2021, the esteemed fashion house gave its pop culture-defining Tabi shoe an environmentally-focused reboot, with the Recicla line Tabi edition made with leftover leather. To celebrate its launch, three artists with backgrounds in upcycling and repurposingYing Chang, Pattern Chineso, and Alexandra Sipa – were invited to reimagine the boot with their innovative and ‘anti-throwaway’ ways of working, using discarded materials like electrical wire lace and silicon to create stunning works of split-toe art.

For the Artisanal Collection 2021 and this new cohort of artisans, mixed media artist Lyle Reimer was tapped by Maison Margiela. Reimer creates mixed-media portraits with found objects, recyclables, and rubbish – sometimes, he works with what he calls “curated garbage”, sent from friends and peers across the globe, to create stunning avant garde pieces. And previously, the Vancouver artist worked with FKA twigs and her AVANTGarden zine to create intricate, wearable art made from trash, supplied by peers and cultural figures like Courtney Love and Christopher Kane. 

Reimer says his interpretation is inspired by Galliano’s opening speech in A Folk Horror Tale. It is both his celebration of everyone involved in crafting the latest collection, and his references to specific art and materials like the paintings of Vermeer, embroidery using unexpected objects like newspaper, and Delft Blue, a style of Dutch pottery. Sharing Galliano’s affinity to this kind of earthenware, Reimer uses pottery pieces, as well as dyed strips of newspaper in bottles, and latex paint for the final sculpture. “I really wanted to embody and become an amulet or a talisman. So this is basically a human charm, if you will, to ward off evil spirits,” Reimer shares.

“The codes of the house speak specifically to how I work and what I feel is important,” Reimer continues. “The notion of recycling and upcycling is very much in the limelight. That's always been my DNA, and I feel that with Maison Margiela it’s always been in their DNA as well.” Reimer’s finished result is like a haunting sea witch queen.

Amber Cowan is an artist trained in classic Venetian glass blowing, utilising second life and recycled glass she sources from old cullet yards in the midwest, defunct factories, and antique markets – a seamless fit with Maison Margiela’s own values in repurposing and craft. Her pieces reflect themes of selfhood, discovery, and loneliness, all imbued with a feminine energy and in her recurring images of birds, female figures, pearls, and shells. 

The nautical themes of Maison Margiela’s collection align with the Philadelphia artist’s own primary work, and have inspired her interpretation of the 2021 collection. One vignette in the film, which sees the models touch the fisherman’s nets filled with fish to find them suddenly disappeared, inspired her delicate milk glass nets, beads, and fish details – it is a deep blue and white image of abundance, its delicateness reflecting how fleeting beauty and moments of bounty and wealth can be.

A pair of white hands sit at the centre, cupped to receive. “The image of a hand is symbolic and powerful – I think that people might not think about how much labour goes into this work, and how all of this clothing and these objects are really tediously and painstakingly handcrafted,” says Cowan. “And so is my work. I like to show that visual imagery of the hand a lot to kind of bring the viewer back into that idea of something being handmade and hand produced.”

Mixed media artist Caroline Achaintre works with an array of materials – textiles, ceramics, print, watercolours – to nudge at the uncanny. She is deeply inspired by the concept of animism, which attributes a living soul to plants and objects. Those otherworldly sensibilities move through A Folk Horror Tale, and inspire the hand-tufted tapestry Achaintre has created for the project. 

Hand-tufting is a technique invented in the 60s that was originally used for carpets; subverting a traditional and domestic method of working, Achaintre creates something fascinating and innovative, aligning with Maison Margiela’s bound-breaking latest work perfectly.

“The starting point is a sketch with the agglomeration of several characters in masks... and they join up to be a new entity,” she explains. Achaintre responded to the exploration of shamanism, folk horror, and the crudeness of the masks contrasting with the elaborate clothing. There’s also the central theme of time – how the past, present, and future interpolate each other. Achaintre’s finished sculpture is mask-like, moving from earthy colours to pastel as it approaches two captivating eye holes. 

Watch the full A Folk Horror Tale film above, and check out the three artists’ interpretations of the 2021 collection.