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Maison Martin Margiela

The influential and supremely elusive Martin Margiela has been called fashion's very own J.D. Salinger. Since founding Maison Martin Margiela in 1988, the Belgian designer has never granted an interview or even consented to being photographed. The label on his clothes is equally anonymous, a blank white rectangle and a circled number from 0 to 23 that corresponds to one of various lines in the Margiela range. Of course, the white stitches used to affix his label—often visible at the back of the garment—have become an internationally recognized badge of cool.

Coming out of Antwerp in the early eighties, alongside a group of designers including Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester who made the city an epicenter of avant-garde fashion design, Margiela is known for elevating deconstruction to an art form. A graduate of Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts, he worked as design assistant for Jean Paul Gaultier before venturing out on his own.

Considered a conceptual designer, Margiela often presents what might be described as extreme fashion, radical collections whose ideas push the boundaries of what constitutes fashion. Clothes made of trash bags or vintage home furnishings (think car seats, complete with seat belts), jewelry derived from ice cubes (they melted, streaking the clothes blue and pink)—it's anyone's guess as to what will inspire him next season.

One sure thing, however, is the trickle-down effect of his work. From distressed fabrics to the power-shoulder silhouette, the ideas Margiela sends down the runway will be "absorbed by the mainstream a year later," according to Style.com's Sarah Mower, who dubs him "a fashion insider's rock star." His designs appear in permanent museum collections around the world. Margiela also served as creative director of womenswear for Hermès from 1998 to 2003

The Margiela mystique certainly hasn't hurt business. He has been based in Paris since 1984 and sold a majority stake to Diesel's Renzo Rosso in 2002. With dozens of all-white shops worldwide (and a staff that wears white lab coats), the house recently expanded into sunglasses, including the "identity" style, which resembles a black bar over the eyes.

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