Film Reviews

NZIFF Film Review: Martin Margiela: In His Own Words (2020)

Reuben Raj
Martin Margiela: In His Own Words

Reiner Holzemer (Dries (2017), Anton Corbijn: Most Wanted (2014), William Eggleston: Photographer (2008)) directed and produced the fashion documentary Martin Margiela: In His Own Words about fashion’s most elusive designer. The film premieres at the New Zealand International Film Festival at 8pm on Monday, July 27 and shown again at 10am on Tuesday, July 28. Viewers can watch the film in the cinema or stream it from the comforts of home.

From the very start of his career in 1988, Martin Margiela went through great lengths to protect his identity. He endured tremendous pressure for twenty years to preserve anonymity that was absolutely vital to his aesthetic and surrealistic mindset. But why all the secrecy and a desire bordering on obsession to remain ‘faceless’ and ‘invisible’ in an industry that is built on the 'look' of fame and privilege?

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Inside Martin Margiela's studio

We hear Margiela speak for the first time since his abrupt departure from the fashion world more than a decade ago. Holzemer cleverly reveals the ‘invisible’ enigma of fashion by showing Margiela’s personal studio, his tools and most importantly his hands as he rummages through boxes for sketches, fabrics and mood boards from past collections.

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Inside Martin Margiela's studio

A part of my career in photography was and is still dedicated to fashion. I was always drawn to photographers and fashion designers who defiled the norm and created their own path to self-expression. Margiela was such a rule-breaker, a fashion anarchist who premiered his unexpected and groundbreaking anti-establishment collections in a decrepit hotel, a nondescript outdoor park, an underground subway station, a Salvation Army depot and so on. But, what drove his vision for Haute Couture? Who was the true north in his creative compass? We hear the answers to these questions and more in Holzemer’s film… from Margiela himself, in his own words.

[Margiela] reopened the discussion on the fashion systems, the show presentations, and the woman’s look. Since Margiela, no other designer has taken this foundation, which is sometimes counter-culture, It may be all-encompassing, it can sometimes be dirty, it can be seen as “unbeautiful”, but as soon as someone puts it on a pedestal, it becomes worthy. That’s what he did. And nobody has done it since - Olivier Saillard (fashion historian)

Holzemer also invites an impressive lineup of guests and friends to share their thoughts and experiences provoked or excited by Margiela’s creations. We hear fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier’s view of Margiela as an ‘outstandingly brave’ but overtly ‘serious’ designer. Revered fashion trend forecaster, Lidewij Edelkoort shares how Margiela ‘never tried to please… it was pleasing because of that’. The film brilliantly depicts the influence and far-reaching impact that Margiela set in motion through the words of Cathy Horyn (fashion critic for the New York Times), Stella Ishii - (Margiela’s former collaborator), Olivier Saillard (fashion historian), Nina Nitsche (Margiela’s assistant 1989-2008), Sandrine Dumas (Film Director and Margiela Model 1990-1993), Etienne Russo (fashion show producer) and more.

The music composed by Belgian indie-rock band dEUS proved to be a suitable match with the various archive footage in the film. The band's experimental rock with jazz undertones creates an almost 'timeless' soundscape to fit the non-conformist nature of Margiela's designs and creative direction. 

Margiela reminisces fondly on how he founded his design house Maison Martin Margiela with Jenny Meirens in August 1987. He talks about fierce Japanese designers and his controversial 'marriage' with the prestigious house of Hermès where he would stay for six years as their fashion director. How did Margiela redefine luxury by shocking fashion critics (again!) in his 1998 Fall Winter 98 99 collection for Hermès?

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Inside Martin Margiela's studio

My personal highlights from the film include the origins of Margiela’s iconic 'veiled face' used by his runway models and his obsession with the silhouette and movement of a garment that led him to spearhead the “La mode Destroy” style. This film renewed my interest in fashion history and rekindled my desire to look beyond the used and discarded inside my camera frame.

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While Martin Margiela: In His Own Words deepens one’s understanding and appreciation of Margiela as the ‘Warhol’ of the fashion world, it also stirs one’s curiosity about his views on Maison Margiela today under the helm of John Galliano as artistic director. What are his thoughts on today's copycat fast-paced fashion scene that is largely driven by technology and social media? What ideas does he have to shape the look and feel of tomorrow? I vouch fashion purists and enthusiasts alike would love to hear.

While there are no seasons anymore for Martin Margiela, I have a strong feeling that he still has much to say…

Martin Margiela: In His Own Words premieres at the New Zealand International Film Festival at 8pm on Monday, July 27 and shown again at 10am on Tuesday, July 28. Viewers can watch the film in the cinema or stream it from the comforts of home.

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Written By: Reuben Raj Reuben is a film and digital photographer who is driven by music in his head. Often seen lurking behind a camera inside the pit of a concert or wandering the streets of China with a blond, Reuben harbours intimate feelings for vinyl records and his Hasselblad SW/C from 1965. He is also the founder of Radio 13.