The Style Guide to Martin Margiela

Photo of Culture Trip
7 September 2016

The New York Times described him as ‘the most elusive figure in fashion’. He has rarely been photographed, never gives full interviews and always skips the traditional end-of-show bow. However, Belgian-born Martin Margiela remains one of the most influential designers in history; a mysterious rebel that rose to fame by boldly going against the fashion status quo. Here we bring you all you need to know about the elusive designer behind the Maison Margiela brand.

How do you identify a Martin Margiela design?


When he started working in early 1980, Martin Margiela went against everything that was considered traditional couture. Inspired by his mother’s deconstruction and reconstruction of furniture, Margiela’s designs often revealed the structure of the garments, intentionally exposing the linings and seams. When faced with a piece of material, Margiela was more likely to start not by sewing, but by destroying.

Oversized and Androgynous

Many Margiela designs give the impression of being ill fitted — the clothes are rarely made to fit a model’s measurements, opting instead for the XXL alternative. His clothes were more often inspired by the rules of architecture and sculpture than by classic tailoring. The avant-garde silhouettes allowed for the clothes to be gender fluid, an aesthetic that has influenced a younger generation of designers and has permeated right through to contemporary street style. Notable amongst Margiela’s disciples is Demna Gvasalia, who actually worked at the brand before launching his own coveted label Vetements.

Strange Materials

Martin Margiela was renowned for using unorthodox materials. Over the years, his eclectic mediums have included car seat belts, wigs, baseball gloves and doorknobs. Once, Margiela even dyed his clothes by melting colored ice onto the fabric — his strategies are unique! The designer took the same daring and progressive approach to his fashion shows, with models often wearing masks or blindfolds so that attention was focused purely on their clothes.

Martin Margiela biography: Your questions answered

Where was Martin Margiela born? Margiela was born in 1957 in Genk, Belgium.

Where did Martin Margiela study fashion? He graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp in 1979, a year before the Antwerp Six. Though Margiela was never officially part of the group, he was often regarded as the seventh honorary member.

Where did Martin Margiela start working in fashion? After graduating, Margiela spent five years doing freelance work before working for Jean Paul Gaultier between 1985 and 1987.

When did Martin Margiela create Maison Margiela? He created Maison Margiela with his business partner Jenny Meirens in 1988.

Where else did Martin Margiela work? The designer was appointed creative director of Hermès’ womenswear between 1997 to 2003.

When, and why, did Martin Margiela leave Maison Margiela? Though the official statement came in 2009, it was stated that ‘Martin has not been there for a long time. He is here but not here’. The exact date and reason for the designer’s departure from the fashion house remain a mystery.

Does Maison Martin Margiela still exist? Yes, the legacy continues, now under the creative direction of John Galliano who took the helm in 2014.

Who owns Maison Margiela? In 2002, the brand was acquired by Diesel Group owner Renzo Russo. Russo was instrumental in appointing Galliano as the new creative director of the label. Russo told Business of Fashion, ‘John Galliano is one of the greatest, undisputed talents of all time. A unique, exceptional couturier for a Maison that always challenged and innovated the world of fashion. I look forward to his return to create that fashion dream that only he can create, and wish him to here find his new home.’

The fashion industry on Martin Margiela

The collections have seemed to push and strain and, in some cases, rip apart, resew, and beat up the very definition of clothing. – Interview Magazine

Anybody who’s aware of what life is in a contemporary world is influenced by Margiela. – Marc Jacobs

I already knew he was good, but I didn’t realise to what extent. – Jean Paul Gaultier

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