Since starting his line in 1988, Martin Margiela has achieved anti-stardom and a cultish clientele with collections defined by intelligence, humor and superb craftsmanship—and with an almost pathological preoccupation with his own anonymity (the designer, famously, has never agreed to be photographed). While recent rumors of his retirement seem corroborated by less-than-stellar show reviews earlier this month, a handsome new book celebrates the previous twenty years of fashion magic from the gifted Belgian and his team.
Maison Martin Margiela (Rizzoli, $100) captures the designer’s two-decade career through 400 photos (runway, backstage, exhibits, magazine/newspaper stories) culled from Margiela’s personal archive. The images illustrate Margiela’s signature themes, many of which are so oft-copied that they’ve become cliche: exposed seams, deconstructed and reassembled garments, intentional imperfection, pervasive white, an economy of means, an obsession with numbers and systematization—i.e. the cryptic labeling of the various Margiela lines—and a penchant for sartorial pranks that recalls Rei Kawakubo, with whom Margiela has collaborated.
Adding substance to the visual surfeit, a dozen texts are peppered throughout, including a fond introduction by Jean Paul Gaultier (Margiela’s first boss, fresh out of school) and a pithy note from Carine Roitfeld. An academic essay by Susannah Frankel—on the mis-notion of so-called conceptual fashion—is particularly enlightening, while Chris Dercon draws some interesting parallels between Margiela’s creative vocabulary and that of the Surrealists, pointing out that Margiela’s brand of wit is as quintessentially Belgian as chocolate. But it’s Vincent Wierink’s piece about 40 seasons’ worth of show invitations—from a telegram and a bar of dark chocolate to fake calendars and rock-concert tickets—that thoroughly captures the simplicity and clever originality of Margiela’s best work.