Maison Martin Margiela's "Couture" collection, Artisanal, corrals a number of different creative impulses: finding preciousness in the un-precious or the overlooked, asking compelling questions about what constitutes value in fashion, and celebrating the craft of the hand. In fetishizing the production process (detailing the provenance and the production time), it's creating a fashion equivalent of the Slow Food movement. Artisanal is also a collection about collecting—gathering up bits and pieces from other times and places to repurpose in the here and now. Today's version of Artisanal took that particular impulse to high/low extremes: Clothes wrapped and draped from textiles designed by artists (some of them sourced from "private collections") were matched with bricolages of found doodads, beads, chains, soda-can pulls, crystals, keys, and so much more. And, as has become a habit with this collection, the result was mesmerizingly, bizarrely beautiful.
Whoever's responsibility it is to scour the world for source material for MMM must have one of the best jobs in fashion—or maybe one of the most difficult. You wonder at the powers of persuasion it took to winkle the fourth look's Frank Lloyd Wright textiles out of a private collection in Flagstaff, Arizona, so they could be whisked to the Maison's workshop, where the elves of the triple M would transfer the cherished cloth into a mere dress! Point being, it never is just a mere dress. Like an atelier full of interning Dr. Frankensteins, MMM's alchemists compose new life from bits and pieces of the old. Here, that life lived on so many levels, from the white T-shirt stitched with scraps of old Mariano Fortuny fabric (production time: twenty-two hours), to the opera coat cut from a 1920s Bauhaus tapestry (production time: one hundred and ten hours). The approach to raw materials was catholic enough to embrace a tapestry based on a Gauguin painting (it made a huge coat) and an old rescue blanket (from which a jacket was cut). Or silk scarves from a 1930s brothel (sewn together to make a pencil skirt) and embroideries based on designs made by the famous fifties tattooist Sailor Jerry (stitched into shell tops). You hear tell that shoppers increasingly appreciate a narrative attached to their purchases. MMM delivered the goods in spades.
Seeing we mentioned habit, there is one MMM go-to that might be due a revision. The models once more walked with faces covered, this time with organdy veils whose eyeholes were embroidered. Kanye West made Artisanal's last, glittering face-huggers practically iconic when he wore them on his tour. But these masks were so damn creepy that, instead of forcing 100 percent of your focus on the clothes (surely the point of the exercise), they left you pondering beauty and horror, and the life-forms that might need such coverage.