Enigma Variations

A London Exhibition Examines Martin Margiela's Career (But Was the Designer in the House?)


Gareth Pugh and Daphne Guinness   
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It's quite possible Martin Margiela has had nothing to do with the Maison that bears his name since its 20th anniversary show in September 2008. With Margiela, anything has always been possible, even to the ludicrous extreme that the designer might be a fashion folktale rather than mere flesh and blood. Which is why the best rumor during last night's launch at Somerset House of the Maison Martin Margiela 20 exhibition was that Margiela himself was in the house. See, there he is…over there…the balding, gray-haired gent.

That kind of wishful thinking on the part of his acolytes has helped make Margiela's career one of the most influential and enigmatic in fashion, especially since his fans have included equally significant peers like Alexander McQueen and Marc Jacobs. Among the designers in last night's turnout were Sir Paul Smith, Gareth Pugh, and Erdem Moralioglu. "I loved that you could get so close to the clothes," said Moralioglu. Yes, the intimacy was a plus, especially when the exhibition's organization by theme—such as shoulders, trompe l'oeil, Artisanal collections, and the ever-intriguing Replicas—rather than chronology demanded that attention must be paid.

Enjoying the curatorial endeavors of Somerset House's Claire Catterall, Kaat Debo (who put together the show's original incarnation at the ModeMuseum in Antwerp), and exhibition designer Bob Verhelst were the Met's Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton. Enjoying the gin-based cocktails on Somerset House's gloriously sun-soaked terrace were Daphne Guinness, Serena Rees, Dinos and Tiphaine Chapman, Louise Wilson, Lulu Kennedy, Baillie Walsh, and Richard Mortimer. Moving freely among them was that balding, gray-haired gent. Was it Margiela? Well, that assumes all Martin had to do was remove his signature cap to pass as One of Us. And we all know what happens when you make assumptions.

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