Martin Margiela: In His Own Wordsi is a 90-minute documentary exploring the man, the myth, and the legend through his own eyes, as well as those of his contemporaries and former colleagues. Active for precisely 40 seasons over 20 years from 1988-2008, Martin Margiela indelibly shaped the world of fashion design that we know and love today.
Unfortunately, this docu seems to be a case of expectations getting the better of me. Perhaps it was the depth of my pre-existing edification in the man’s oeuvre that deprived me of more enjoyment with the film, but I couldn’t help but be left with the feeling that Holzemer at once skimmed over deeper details (like the maison‘s curious sale to Diesel’s Renzo Rosso and how the conceptually-driven Martin succumbed to commercial forces so readily) and yet failed to muster the paceii to prevent me from falling half-asleep half-way through. No mean feat. For not since the Bjarke-focused “Big Time” had I looked so forward to a new documentary, and yet I just couldn’t stay engaged. In Holzy’s defence, fast-moving new-kids-on-the-block like Bliss Foster sprung up from nowhere – while footage of white boxes on tidy shelves was no doubt still on the cutting room floor – to offer us an intellectual analysis unmatchable by the inherent limitations of a documentary film and its expected format. Combine this new generation of didacts with my own memorable experiences with MM boutiques, a couple of first-class books I have on my shelves, and who knows how many articles I’ve digested on the subject, and I couldn’t help but be left wanting for more from this particular hour-and-a-half episode. Perhaps the anticipation was too much, the build-up unable to match the reality, but what can we do? Set lower expectations, I suppose.
Still, it must be admitted, any further attention devoted to Martin Margiela only enhances my respect and admiration for this quixotically underrated man. Seeing the intelligence of his hands and hearing the soft confidence of his voice in this heretofore unprecedented interview was uniquely compelling in confirming the hypothesis that Martin was one of the late 20th century and early 21st century’s rarest finds: the platonic ideal of the artist, something approaching the Van Gogh of his industry and era. In this world of “influencers” who generate nothing but revenue for their respective platforms, the Belgian-born salvo was as serious about deconstructed military socks from the Salvation Army as he was about curating collections for intelligent working women seeking to liberate themselves from structural conformities, and thus a comprehensive and massively influential schism was born. His unorthodox model castings, bizarre show venues, cryptic invitations, and general distaste for the commercial world was as authentic as it was zealously protected behind a cloak of invisibility. Martin’s mysterious refusal to conduct distracting interviews with know-nothing journalists and to instead focus the entirety of his energies on his creative developments and processes was as unusual then as it is frankly unimaginable now.iii
If you’re completely green to the name “Martin Margiela,” In His Own Words is still worth watching; but if you’re already loosely familiar and are now ready to dig your teeth into something a bit more substantial, you really can’t beat my boy Bliss. Such are the times.
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