Martin Margiela

White pair of tabi shoes, covered in black marker pen

The work of Martin Margiela, with its many references to the history of fashion and dressmaking, forms an important part of the MoMu collection. In 2008, the museum devoted an exhibition to the 20th anniversary of Maison Martin Margiela, followed by Margiela, The Hermès Years in 2017.

Acid-free press file - autumn/winter 1993/94
Martin Margiela, press file Autumn-Winter 1993-94
MoMu Collection, Photo: Stany Dederen
Mannequin wearing black oversized jacket, black knee-length pants and black tabi boots
Martin Margiela, Autumn-Winter 2000-01
MoMu Collection inv. X1451, Photo: Stany Dederen
Black and white photograph of model with deconstructed top
Martin Margiela, backstage image Spring-Summer 1997
Photo: Ronald Stoops
Mannequin wearing brown-colored long dress, tabi shoes and bracelet
Martin Margiela, Spring-Summer 1990
MoMu Collecton inv. X1599, Photo: Stany Dederen
Two mannequins: first in bright two-piece dress and silver tabi shoes; second also in bright dress, over jeans, and black tabi shoes
Martin Margiela, Spring-Summer 1992
MoMu Collection inv. X403 & X404, Photo: Stany Dederen
Invitation Martin Margiela with the print "invitation" in big red letters
Martin Margiela, Autumn-Winter 1990-91 invitation
MoMu Collection inv. T18/508/260, Photo: Stany Dederen
Mannequin with beige wool sweater, necklace with lock of blond hair, white jeans and a piece of tape stuck over the eyes
Martin Margiela, Autumn-Winter 1994-95
MoMu Collection inv. X406, Photo: Stany Dederen
Mannequin wearing a black sweater in a fishbone pattern, black leggings and khaki leather knee boots
Martin Margiela, Autumn-Winter 1990-91
MoMu Collection inv. X407, Photo: Stany Dederen
Black-and-white photo of wide-smiling catwalk model in deconstructed Martin Margiela outfit
Martin Margiela, backstage image Autumn-Winter 1989-90
Photo: Ronald Stoops
Mannequin with piece of tape over eyes, top off leather gloves, long white pleated skirt and black and white spotted tabi shoes
Martin Margiela, Spring-Summer 2001
MoMu Collection inv. X412, Photo: Stany Dederen
Mannequin with bodysuit in herringbone pattern and a black hip skirt - to which an iron clothes hanger is attached
Martin Margiela, Spring-Summer 2005
MoMu Collection inv. X1461, Photo: Stany Dederen
Folded red T-shirt with inscription: "THERE IS MORE ACTION TO BE DONE TO FIGHT AIDS THAN TO WEAR THIS T-SHIRT BUT IT'S A GOOD START", folded in translucent ziplock pocket
Martin Margiela, 'Charity AIDS-T-shirt' Autumn-Winter 1994-95
MoMu Collection inv. B02/116, Photo: Stany Dederen

Martin Margiela graduated from the fashion department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp in 1980. From 1984 to 1987 he was assistant to the French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier. In 1988, together with Jenny Meirens, he founded Maison Martin Margiela in Paris. Margiela’s unique approach interrogates the very system on which fashion is founded, more particularly the volatility and speed that is inherent to it. His collections conceptualize the idea of time by recycling all sorts of materials, such as plastic, porcelain and vintage clothing, but also by clearly visualizing the production process and the time it consumes. From 1997 to 2003, Martin Margiela designed the women’s collections for the French luxury brand, Hermès. Based on his respect for superb craftsmanship, he developed a slowly evolving wardrobe for Hermès in which comfort and quality are central. When he left Maison Martin Margiela in 2009, the house continued operating under the leadership of the creative team until John Galliano was appointed creative director in 2014.


Model in a deconstructed top by Martin Margiela and a matching skirt
Martin Margiela, backstage image Spring-Summer 1997
MoMu Collection inv. B02/133A, Photo: Anders Edström


In the 1996 Spring-Summer collection, the Stockman tailor’s mannequin formed the basis for every silhouette. For example, Margiela attached a bustier in black muslin to a black-and-white elastic band. Margiela learned culture drapery techniques from Hieron Pessers, former studio manager for Hubert de Givenchy and drapery teacher at the fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp.

Martin Margiela, Spring-Summer 1997
MoMu Collection inv. X1435, Photo: Stany Dederen
Two mannequins, with brown-haired wig, in deconstructed top, long skirt and tabi shoes
Martin Margiela, Autumn-Winter 1997-98
MoMu Collection inv. X1438 & X1598, Photo: Stany Dederen

Maison Martin Margiela intentionally makes traces of the process of producing his clothing visible, revealing seams, linings, white overlock stitches and shoulder pads. This often concerns traditional dressmaking techniques and interventions that are expressly intended to conform the individual body as closely as possible to the standard shape of the tailor’s mannequin. In 1997-98, these classic mannequins were the starting point for two collections in which jackets formed replicas of those bodice shapes.


Mannequin wearing beige trench coat, long black skirt and beige loafers
Martin Margiela, Spring-Summer 1984
MoMu Collection inv. X426A, Photo: Stany Dederen
Model with black oversized top and black skirt
Martin Margiela, Spring-Summer 1998
Photo: Martin Margiela
Model with black headpiece, beige deconstructed trench coat, black pants and black shoes
Martin Margiela for Hermès, Spring-Summer 2003
MoMu Collection inv. T19/621ABCDEFG, Photo: Stany Dederen

Maison Martin Margiela reinterprets archetypal articles of clothing from the Western wardrobe, such as the trench coat, the tuxedo and the white shirt, with meticulous expertise. By way of the Replica Line, which reproduces vintage apparel pieces, and the Artisan Collection, comprised of unique, time-consuming pieces, the Maison pays homage to the craftsmanship of the past. The standardized body shape on which fashion is based also fascinates the designer. Diverse collections include oversized clothing and/or play with disproportion.


Mannequin with black mask, black necklace, black costume jacket with shoulder pads, black pants and beige tabi shoes
Martin Margiela, Spring-Summer 1989, black ensemble with ‘cigarette’ shoulder pads
MoMu Collection inv. X416, Photo: Stany Dederen
  • Mannequin in leather cape with shoulder pads, padded necklace, pink leggings and boots lined with voile
    Martin Margiela, Autumn-Winter 2007-08
    MoMu Collection inv. X417, Photo: Stany Dederen
  • Mannequin in black coat with tapered shoulder line and loose, padded stand-up collar. Underneath, the mannequin wears black leather knee-high boots with a heel
    Martin Margiela, Autumn-Winter 2008-09
    MoMu Collection inv. X418, Photo: Stany Dederen

Through the years, Margiela silhouettes underwent striking changes. At the end of the 1980s, the Maison innovated the ‘cigarette’ shoulder pad, set high on the shoulder. As a result, the actual shoulder of the wearer was underneath the pronounced shoulder inset. In early 2000, the shoulders would broaden and subsequently become rounded and raised. From the Spring-Summer collection of 2007, they took on extreme proportions, reaching a conically shaped climax in the Autumn-Winter collection of 2008-09.


Model with black mask, grey glitter dress and white boots with black heel
Martin Margiela, Spring-Summer 1996
MoMu Collection inv. X1433, Photo: Stany Dederen


In the interiors of his office and shops as well, Margiela creates optical illusions by integrating black-and-white photographs of 18th-century interior elements.

Martin Margiela, trompe l'oeil effect inside the Maison Martin Margiela shop in Los Angeles
Photo: Art Gray
Two mannequins in translucent brown dresses and in translucent mules - with a black heel
Martin Margiela, Spring-Summer 1996
MoMu Collection inv. X1434 & X414, Photo: Stany Dederen

Margiela makes generous use of trompe-l’oeil motifs in his collections. For his 1996 Spring-Summer collection, he printed simple dresses in flowing fabrics with photographs of other articles of clothing.


Two models: left model in beige jacket with dress, and brown knee boots; right model in beige sleeveless top, with plaid knee skirt and brown tabi knee boots
Martin Margiela, lookbook Autumn-Winter 2004-05
MoMu Collection
Catwalk model in red outfit, wearing mask
Martin Margiela, Spring-Summer 1989 show
Foto: Ronald Stoops
Two models: left model in black and white top, black pants and black heels; right model in black suit top without sleeves and black-beige skirt, with white heels
Martin Margiela, lookbook Spring-Summer 2005
MoMu Collection
Two models: left model in black sleeveless top and bright blue skirt, with silver heels; right model in yellow floral top, orange knee skirt and beige heels
Martin Margiela, lookbook Spring-Summer 2005
MoMu Collection
Two masked models, one in costume vest and shirt, the other in slightly translucent top
Martin Margiela, backstage image Autumn-Winter 1989-90
Foto: Ronald Stoops
Two models: the left with khaki top, brown oversized leather pants, and brown leather tabi shoes; the right with khaki trench coat, beige dress and brown tabi knee boots

Despite the unmistakable stamp of identity in his work, from the beginning of his career, Margiela kept himself invisible. Interviews take place in the name of the Maison and photographs of the designer are rare. Maison Martin Margiela carries this incognito approach through in a radical way in the presentations of the collections. The models become anonymous, through veils, make-up or wigs that partially or fully cover the face. In the lookbooks, black bands cover the eyes.

Front of black sleeveless top Maison Martin Margiela
Martin Margiela, front label
Photo: Jacques Sonck
Back of black sleeveless top Maison Martin Margiela
Martin Margiela, back label
Photo: Jacques Sonck

This choice for anonymity is also translated into the labels on the garments: empty cotton rectangles that are sewn in by hand. The four white stitches visible on the outside of the garments have become a well-recognized signature.

Author: Romy Cockx
Photo above: Ronald Stoops

Exhibition view 'Maison Martin Margiela: '20' the exhibition'