If an "invisible" designer has finally dematerialized, will anyone actually be able to tell the difference? Such is the philosophical conundrum facing the many fans of Martin Margiela. Outside the company, no one knows anything about the whereabouts of one of modern fashion's greatest heroes, and the is-he, isn't-he retiring gossip that started a year ago has become one big snore. In the absence of any definitive corporate statement, the only test of whether Margiela is still in the house must be down to whether the inimitable dialogue of excellence, intellectual challenge, and wit is still there in his show. Safe, yet very sad to say, this time it was gone.

There have been many seasons when Margiela's collections have been lauded for being brilliant comings-together of thoughts, and many others when they've been rejected, panned, and found offensive. There have been none, however, where the work has been of so little consequence. The Margiela-isms seemed to be there, sort of: the tan bodysuits mimicking nakedness, the Perspex shoulder pads, the so-called "deconstructionist" cutouts, the leggings pulled over shoes, the grown-on collars worn as hoods, the tinselly boas. Yet all of it seemed to be done by rote, as if it had been pulled out of the label's back catalog, without any sense of a vivid intelligence pushing an idea toward new conclusions.

Often the end of Margiela's shows could feel like a cliff-hanger, where the audience would be left with a sick-thrilled sensation of wondering where, and how, his ideas could possibly manifest themselves. Later they always would, one way or another, and often in the collections of other designers many seasons later. The reason, for instance, that giant shoulder pads are "in" right now, this season, is that Margiela single-handedly pushed them way out there two years ago. His impact on fashion is vast, and now in its absence, a loss to be mourned, not just by loyal fans who are from now on looking for somewhere else to shop, but by an entire industry that has depended on Martin Margiela's genius contributions to drive fashion forward.