Last weekend the long-awaited exhibition, Margiela: The Hermès Years, opened up to the public, exploring the years in which Belgian designer Martin Margiela excerpted creative control over the design process at Hermès. The exhibition held at the MoMu in Antwerp showcases a number of womenswear designs produced in the five years Margiela reigned at Hermès alongside pieces taken from his own oeuvre, which came to define the Hermès aesthetic. Expect a marriage between avant-garde design and luxury fashion.
From 1997 to 2003, Margiela took over creative leadership at the French house of Hermès. Before the iconic designer was appointed creative director, Hermès defined luxury through its colourful printed silk scarves and leather goods; items known for their high finish and use of fine materials. The lavishness and splendour of Hermès ultimately tied to notions of expense and quality.
However, this notion of luxury has evolved over time and within varying contexts; something which this exhibition explores as its thoughtful display showcases Margiela’s take on luxury and how it gave way to an alternative vision on fashion. A vision in which the designer designs with the comfort of the wearer in mind rather than the eye of the beholder, and where fashion stretches beyond mere aesthetic appeal. Focusing primarily on the womenswear collection at Hermès, this new vision on fashion correspondingly places the ‘authentic’ woman at its centre. Castings, for example, involved women aged 25 and above, which at times could range up to 65 years old! According to the Belgian creative, mature women were able to express the comfort of the clothing through their natural movements and their sense of conviction as they elegantly paraded down the runway. Clearly, what Margiela sought in his designs he also sought in women—namely a sense of character.
Hermès became defined by a new sense of luxury, characterized by essentialist designs. Emphasis was placed on tactility, technique and construction in order to establish utmost comfort for the wearer. Margiela did all this without disregarding the core values of Hermès as he exceeded in sustaining Hermès’ reputation for quality and finish, investing in luxury products made from leather and cashmere. Yet, garments were stripped of ornamental purpose and instead returned to their essence. As opposed to the colourful patterns previously dominating the Hermès runway, Margiela’s designs involved a monochrome aesthetic, adding to the overall timeless feel the garments embodied.
Luxury became twofold; for Margiela luxury was as much about the materiality as it was about the experience. Essentially, defining a new sense of luxury, which diverted away from glamour and excess. Allowing more creative freedom in expression for the wearer through layered, multi-functional and deconstructed silhouettes, which enabled the natural beauty of the mature woman to endure.
Although Margiela no longer designs at Hermès, his influence still echoes throughout the Paris-based fashion house and will probably do so for many years to come. Visit the entire exhibition to get a feel for the way Martin Margiela came to define Hermès’ luxury and with it a new image of the Hermès woman as we know her today.