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Oct 04, 2023

Where are the great ideas? At Margiela, John Galliano knows how to go big

“Where Are the Big Ideas?” wondered journalist Vanessa Friedman in the headline of a sharp piece published in the New York Times after attending the shows on the first day of Paris Fashion Week. Dior by Maria Grazia Chiuri and Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello were the two heavyweights to open the nine-day event. She stated that both brands played it safe: “Yet sometimes the bigger the brand, the more grandiose the scenography, the higher the celebrity wattage, the smaller the ideas. Or so it seemed as Paris Fashion Week began.” Many other journalists supported Friedman’s take as the days went by, and this cautious approach of both emerging designers and major brands towards a gloomy and uncertain present – not only in terms of business - became more and more evident. Not surprisingly, when Saturday brought Japanese designers to the catwalk, WWD’s Miles Socha wrote: “It’s been a downbeat season dominated by safe collections, with a few brave contrarians such as Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garçons).”

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Un post condiviso da Maison Margiela (@maisonmargiela)

For the Spring-Summer 2024 Co-Ed Collection, Maison Margiela staged a search for individual truth reflected in the generational adaptation of an inherited wardrobe. Creative Director John Galliano imagined a chemical reaction between eras and attitudes   

On Monday night, towards the end of the season (PFW just ended yesterday), Maison Margiela finally arrived to uplift the spirits of a fashion month lacking courage. For the brand owned by Renzo Rosso’s Otb group, designer John Galliano proved that he is still the Oz of fashion, as Alexander Fury of AnOther Magazine described him.

“Underneath everything, there’s a battle going on between creativity and commerciality in fashion this season,” wrote Sarah Mower in Vogue Runway. “Must it be that binary?,” she wondered. “When John Galliano’s models waded, heads down, into the situation at Maison Margiela, they were wearing a collection that couldn’t have been more fiercely imaginative but was also studded with wearable gems.” But how is Galliano taking it all? By redefining the unconventional as the norm, as founder Martin Margiela first did. This is the perfect time to delve into the history of Maison Margiela and explore the enigmatic minds of Martin Margiela and John Galliano.


The Banksy of fashion: behind founder Martin Margiela’s mysteriousness

There’s something about Martin Margiela’s mysteriousness that has always drawn people towards him, with fashion enthusiasts wanting to decode, unveil and comprehend the personality of this enigmatic figure.

Margiela’s famous discretion is almost unbearable and incomprehensible for a designer who played such a pivotal role in the fashion industry. He has always avoided the external validation that inevitably comes with it.

He disregarded the cult of personalities that often surrounds designers and instead favoured anonymity, further deconstructing fashion industry standards. Would he have built the impressive body of work for which he is admired if he had not maintained a low profile and an aura of mystery around his persona?


Deconstructing a myth

Since its foundation in 1988, the Margiela brand has forced people to think out of the box by presenting trailblazing designs without context. This legacy was started by Martin Margiela and passed on to his successor, John Galliano, and his mentor, Jean Paul Gaultier.


In 2019, a documentary titled “Martin Margiela: In His Own Words” was released. The film features exclusive interviews with Margiela himself, as well as Jean Paul Gaultier, Carine Roitfeld and many others 

When he started working for Jean Paul Gaultier, Martin Margiela was fresh from graduation at Antwerp’s Academy of Fine Arts. His mentor’s professional path would cross his about a decade later when Gaultier succeeded him at Hermès. Another great talent intertwined with Margiela’s journey is John Galliano, who landed at Margiela after his epic and troubled period at Dior.

The brand’s first collections were showcased in unusual and unconventional spaces, such as a circus tent or an abandoned metro. This designer’s approach was labelled as ‘deconstruction’ as an attempt to unveil the craft of designing and making clothes.


Foretelling contemporary trends like a prophecy

Margiela implemented many trends emerging in today’s fashion scene before they were cool. Unlike his contemporaries who sought inspiration from vintage boutiques, Margiela purchased cheap stock from flea markets and disassembled them to reconstruct them with tags that credited the source of the original materials. He made the concept of deconstruction in garments look cool and believable.

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Un post condiviso da Maison Margiela (@maisonmargiela)

The brand Maison Margiela is renowned not only for its innovative and gender-bending fashion designs

What we now know as ‘upcycling’ was still unheard of until Margiela became one of the first designers to incorporate a relatively more sustainable approach to fashion. He did so by re-using and altering existing clothes, meticulously dissecting them like a surgeon and reassembling them in unexpected ways, leaving each garment better than he found it.

Margiela also broke the traditional norms when it came to beauty. From the beginning, he believed in showcasing ordinary and real people on the runway, promoting models that were considered unconventional by society. The fashion industry accepted this rebellious disposition of the brand with open arms.

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Un post condiviso da Maison Margiela (@maisonmargiela)

From the famous split-toe Tabi shoes, gritty runway locations and unconventional models walking the show, the label’s unique sense of fashion grew into a style of its own


The crypto branding

The Creative Director’s decision to remain anonymous in his personal life had a significant impact on the brand’s identity. He wanted to create a sense of mystery around the brand, so he introduced the iconic ‘ghost’ branding, where the label on the garment is sewn on the inside. The idea was to allow the garment to take centre stage and speak for itself rather than the designer.

Initially, the brand label was completely white and held in place by four stitches at the corners, making it easily removable. Martin Margiela, the designer, chose white as his signature hue and treated it as a blank canvas to be filled without any distractions.

“White means the strength of fragility and the fragility of the passage of time” – Martin Margiela, designer and founder of Maison Margiela

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Un post condiviso da Hidden Archive (@hidden_archive)

In 1997, Martin Margiela added new elements to his plain tag: a three-by-eight grid ranging numbers from 0-23, set in three rows. These numbers were related to specific product lines and were circled to indicate the collection they belonged to


John Galliano and Martin Margiela’s paths have always been inextricably connected 

On one fine Autumn morning in 1989, they made a significant impact with a game-changing fashion held on an abandoned playground in the outskirts of Paris. The front row was crowded with local kids, and the rest of the seating plan was on a first-come, first-served basis. The runway was uneven, causing models to stumble. 

Before the show, the children of the local community were asked to draw illustrations that were turned into invitations for the show; then, they were found walking alongside the models in the show. The atmosphere was chaotically happy and disruptive.

Almost a decade later, John Galliano presented a collection for his eponymous label that seemed to recreate Margiela’s legendary Spring/Summer 1990 show in 1989. The Fall Winter 2000-2001 “Welcome to Our Playground” John Galliano collection was inspired by children’s dress-up, featuring models in huge shoes and covered in confusing layers of clothing, some of which were upside-down, followed by a procession of hand-painted cardboard animal costumes.

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Un post condiviso da Robert Fairer (@robert_fairer)

The Fall Winter 2000-2001 “Welcome to Our Playground” John Galliano collection 

This elicited happy grins, laughter and a lot of applause. Perhaps the message Galliano wanted to convey was that of our value systems, politics, societal positions and humanity. It was and always will be about more than just “clothes”. 


A clash of unmatched titans

John Galliano and Martin Margiela have two very distinctive design aesthetics and approaches, which made Galliano’s seem out of place at first. While Margiela focused on minimalism and the collective rather than the individual piece, John Galliano’s vision for his shows was based on excess and escapism.

However, both designers share a passion for sartorial tailoring. They are alike in their power to move people emotionally and shift trends at the same time.

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Un post condiviso da Maison Margiela (@maisonmargiela)

Maison Margiela Artisanal Haute couture collections are tributes to Martin Margiela and his legacy

Despite their differences, both Galliano and Margiela are fascinated with rebuilding, deconstructing and reconstructing clothing to redefine their cuts and proportions. What goes without saying is that they are responsible for some of the most spectacular and immersive experiences in fashion history.

The designer’s use of frayed layering, exaggerated proportions, unfinished hems, repurposed garments and pre-worn pieces continue to inspire upcoming designers today.



Sakshi Rajesh
MA in Fashion Promotion Communication & Digital Media, Milan