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Maison Martin Margiela 20

MMM takes over Somerset House for '20', its celebration of two decades worth of sartorial brilliance from the Belgian designer

There are loads of influential fashion houses that have been around since the beginning of the last century and are now considered to be legendary. Few of the more modern ones, although creative and successful, have gained iconic status after only 20 years on the international fashion circuit, but Maison Martin Margiela is one of those, and that's why '20', a travelling exhibition celebrating its two decades, make sense. After its original stint in Antwerp in 2008 (the real anniversary year), it moved on to Munich and have now landed in London's Somerset House. This, the spot for London's Fashion Week and the recent SHOWstudio expo, makes sense as the chosen location for an insight to this quirky brand.

Many of Somerset House's small rooms and hidden spaces have been used to launch this unusual retrospective; instead of doing it in a conventional way by tracing MMM's time line, MoMu Fashion Museum's curator Kaat Debo focused on unpicking the themes, codes and visual language of the brand. All the things that make the Margiela different and even controversial are represented here: the anonymity of Martin himself, blind-folded models and MMM staff in their white coat uniforms, the unfinished seams, frays and clothes in different states of deconstruction, big shoulders,  and the famous obsession with over sized items. Other highlights include painted clothes, the classically toe dividing Tabi boot, and a room with catwalk videos from many of their shows, plus three loyal MMM customers (one form each of the exhibition cities) trying on their extensive Margiela wardrobe in front of the camera. Dazed Digital spoke to Kaat Debo about the heritage of the brand...

Dazed Digital: How did the show come about?
Kaat Debo: We invited Martin Margiela to work on this exhibition with us because you have to do it together. Martin asked us to come up with the concept and then he reworked it with his team.

DD: Other than it being your 20th anniversary, did you feel for any other reason that it was a good opportunity to work with MMM?
Kaat Debo: Yes, he's a Belgian designer and part of our fashion heritage. We have a lot of Margiela in the archives of our museum, so for me that was also a good reason to do a Margiela exhibition.

DD: The exhibition has been travelling, how come it's ended up at Somerset House in London?
Kaat Debo: Well, a lot happens in London and I think it's an important city for fashion. We first went to Munich with the exhibition at the Haus der Kunst because their director is Belgian and he actually went to the first Margiela exhibition every night in Rotterdam, so he sort of had a history with the Maison. With Somerset House, I knew they wanted to focus more on fashion and they had these wonderful SHOWstudio exhibition, so I think it fits well in their programme and what they want to do here.

DD: How do you think the fact that Martin himself has left the label will impact on the brand?
Kaat Debo: I think there will always be an impact for every brand when the designer leaves the house. I think you will feel that the Maison is looking and searching and you have to give them the time to see how to continue. I think it would be strange if it didn't have an impact.

DD: Generally speaking, how would you sum up the influences of Margiela on the fashion industry?
Kaat Debo: I think they influenced both mainstream fashion and high fashion. They influence very different designers, even designers like Marc Jacobs,and that's quite something I think. What I think is really important is that they keep the balance between concept and fashion. I don't think it's that difficult to make spectacular conceptual fashion shows. What is so nice with Maison is that what you see on the catwalk is what you see in the stores.

DD: A bit like with Dries van Noten...
Kaat Debo: Yeah, I think that's quite a Belgian thing actually. Very few belgian houses make their money with accessories and perfumes, they all really focus on collections and the garments, so what you see on the catwalk is what you see in the stores. With some designers I see their spectacular conceptual fashion shows with some great ideas, but when I go into their stores I'm a little bit disappointed.

DD: Any favourite pieces, moments or must-pick-up garments in the show?
Kaat Debo: I love the Replica series, I think that's brilliant. I love the sweater made of military socks, which is a great idea. It's still an elegant, fashionable sweater. It's not just you wearing a concept, it's fashion. I think it's important that this exhibition shows people that it's not about costume. When you exhibit conceptual fashion the worst thing that could happen is that people say 'Ooh I would never wear that!'

DD: How would you sum up Martin Margiela in three words?
Kaat Debo: Tailoring, concept and fun.

Maison Martin Margiela 20 - The Exhibition runs at Somerset House from 3rd of June to 5th of September, 2010. Somerset House, South Wing, London, WC2R 1LA