Martin Margiela: Looking back on the Hermes years

A new exhibition delves into the secretive Belgian designer's tenure as director of womenswear for the French house


Fashion is often full of drama and bravado, and few designers shy away from taking their catwalk curtain call to soak up the applause for their latest collection. But this couldn't be further from the truth for one of the industry's most influential figures, Martin Margiela, who throughout his career has notoriously shied away from the camera – to the extent that there are only a handful of photos of him in circulation. A new exhibition at MoMu, Antwerp's museum of fashion, will lift the lid on this mysterious character with a retrospective delving into one of his most important tenures, as director of womenswear at Hermes.

When then-CEO of the brand, Jean-Louis Dumas, approached Margiela in the late 1990s to convince him to take on the role, it marked a bold move for the classic French fashion house. The designer had founded his eponymous label in 1988, and from his first collection shocked the fashion world with his daring, deconstructed and avant-garde approach that seemed at odds with Hermes' chic silhouettes. He later became regarded as an honourary member of the Antwerp Six, a ground-breaking group of designers who graduated from Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts. The group counts Dries van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester as members and is often credited with shifting fashion's focus beyond the traditional hubs of London, New York, Paris and Milan.

From 1997 to 2003, Margiela oversaw 12 consecutive collections for Hermes. The exhibition explores the relationship between the designs for his own label and those he created for the brand, and how his unique and contemporary aesthetic came to redefine the Hermes woman. The pieces reveal a striking monochrome palette – at odds with the brightly coloured prints for which the fashion house was known – expressed in relaxed tailoring and forward-thinking silhouettes. It also places a particular focus on one of the designer's trademarks – his innovative and unorthodox approach to recycling and reworking materials.

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Margiela, the Hermes Years runs from 31 March to 27 August at MoMu, Nationalestraat 28, 2000 Antwerp, Belgium. Tickets cost €8 (£6.90);

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