Raf Simons' presence in the front row at Maison Martin Margiela's first couture week runway show caused a stir. One editor wondered aloud if it meant that the mystery man himself, a friend of Simons', had returned to the label that bears his name. That's not likely, but this 15-look "Artisanal" collection, as the house calls it, was founded on one of Margiela's signature fixations: reclaiming vintage clothes, accessories, and other objects (remember his household furniture show from Fall 2006?) and reworking them by hand into new pieces.

The raw cotton sleeveless jacket that opened the show was modeled after a 1905 tailcoat, its closure a crystal doorknob found in New York City. An antique silk gown beaded in an Art Nouveau motif was transformed into a long, quilted bomber jacket. And a bolero and vest constructed from vintage baseball gloves and a coat made from a windsurfing sail added a surreal touch.

The focus was on the upper half of the body. For the lower half, the design team sourced lace from all over France to make simple straight-leg trousers that acted as a canvas for the action above. The models went incognito behind masks (another old Margiela trope) embroidered with hundreds of crystals. There was no shortage of beads or lace either, but nonetheless the presentation acted as an avant-garde (and eco-friendlier) antidote to the shows that preceded it this week. A welcome addition to the couture schedule.