Fashion/Beauty  •  From the Archives

From the Archives: Hermès and the Margiela Years

Belgian designer Martin Margiela was the creative director for Ready-to-Wear at Hermes from 1997 to 2003. 2Mag looks back at the impact Margiela had on the House and the ramifications on his eponymous brand.

July 05, 2017
As Creative Director from 1997 to 2003, Martin Margiela experienced a brief but epic tenure at the French House of Hermes, years that are celebrated in the book Margiela: The Hermès Years and an exhibition at The MOMU Fashion Museum Antwerp, running through August of this year.
At the helm of Hermès from 1997 to 2003, Martin Margiela created a vision suitable not only for the long, lean, and young but also for the realistic and mature woman too, presenting his collections on women of different ages and body types in muted colors and timeless shapes and forms. Making his mark at the end of the ’90s, when glamor was still a word with an understated definition of luxury and a deconstructed version of fashion, Margiela was an avant-garde, his signature label of 4-diagonal stitches defying a logo-heavy decade.

At Hermes, one of the most important yet understated pieces he created was the vareuse, a garment with a very deep V-neck inspired by the classic sailor’s uniform or pea jacket.  
Margiela was also fond of Classic pieces from the Western male wardrobe and numerous variations of these clothing archetypes fit into the visual language of both Hermes and his own Maison. From the white shirt, the suit, the tuxedo, the trench coat and the caban jacket, he developed variations for women. For the Maison, he often used deconstruction in order to seek new interpretations for these classic pieces. For Hermès, he sought ideas that would allow multiple ways of wearing the garments.

Some departures during the Margiela years were his introduction of a different logo, and the decision not to work with printed scarves or carrés in his collections, nor even with prints. The monochrome color palette that he proposed seems opposed to the colorful printed pieces with which Hermès was associated at the time. Margiela’s emphasis, moreover, was on tactility. Innovations in terms of tailoring, technique, and material, along with a new vision of fashion, led to collections designed with the comfort of the wearer, rather than the eye of the beholder, in mind.
Transformation was also something that developed as a signature, as Margiela designed numerous garments as transformable pieces that could be worn in various ways. This added to the longevity of the garments; together with his monochrome color palette, change and experimentation with wardrobe were introduced. Expertly crafted and transformable garments were meant to last a very long time. Successful garments were repeated in successive seasons, sometimes in new materials or variations. Collections were consequently interchangeable, and the designs became increasingly complementary within a consistent vision. Long before ‘slow fashion’ even became a term in the fashion world, Martin Margiela was one of its most emblematic precursors.
For a house that is known for the Kelly bag, it’s somewhat unusual that Margiela did not work on these; instead he introduced his vision towards a timeless image of fashion in more subtle ways. He took the characteristic hand-rolled hem of the carré scarf and used it to finish blouses and tunics. With the ‘Toile H’, an ecru canvas traditionally used for suitcases and bags, he developed a supple variation for clothing. He appreciated the cuir à brides, a traditional leather technique used for equestrian harnesses, and used it for accessories such as bracelets and double tour straps.

In 1997, Margiela also introduced a new icon to the Hermès heritage, when he added a double tour strap to the Cape Cod watch, originally designed by Henri d’Origny in 1991. Wrapped twice around the wrist, the double tour was almost instantly copied around the world.

The show that is currently running at MOMU Fashion Museum Antwerp features, for the first time, the seminal pieces of the collection that show his vision that would have long-lasting influence on the brand and the image of the modern woman—not to mention how luxury was perceived in a time of logo-mania.
“Margiela’s overall oeuvre is shaped from his great knowledge and deep respect for the past, and his exceptional love for tailoring. Tradition, quality, craftsmanship and creation are the foundations of a vision that not only then but also today offers an example in a fashion system increasingly under pressure.”

Today the Maison Martin Margiela is under the creative direction of John Galliano. Galliano too is a designer who does not conform to design norms or standards, defining for himself an aesthetic and a vision of beauty. His latest FW17 Haute Couture show in Paris sees Galliano reworking some of the iconic pieces that Margiela himself introduced at the Maison.

What Margiela created was meant to last; today, 20 years later, the image of the strong modern woman, the Margiela woman, and also the Hermes woman is still what we aspire to be, and our clothes reflect that: subtle, timeless, and beautifully constructed.