Martin Margiela: The Artist Is Absent

The screen flickers, and after a glimpse of a handwritten sign, which reads, “été 90”, a model emerges from behind a curtain, looking for all the world like a very tall Debbie Harry.

From the first scratchy film clips of Martin Margiela’s inaugural show in 1990, this short film has you transfixed. Although Margiela, as the title says, is never actually there, his absence speaks volumes. Frame by frame, we see subtle traces of a man who has ignited the fashion world with an artistic fervour rarely seen on the high street.

Showing us it’s OK to take another path, to not follow the glamour and glitz of fashion, even to employ unusual models, he startles and amuses. (Many of their faces were obscured because he could not afford the higher priced celebrities..) In steering away from the traditional fashion mores, he entered another tradition: deconstruction. He wasn’t the first, but he hacked away at concepts, statuses and designs so earnestly, it became new again.

Nicknamed the Greta Garbo of fashion, he studied at The Antwerp Academy, alongside the Antwerp Six, like the Belgian artist, Christian Develter, whom I met in Asia last year.

Filled with illustrious talking heads, such as Jean Paul Gaulthier and Suzy Menkes, the film is a twelve minute enchantment.
The Constructivist and Expressionist themes are particularly mesmerising, as a model walks round twisting corners, and angles align.

How spectacular it must have been to to be there at the beginning, at the first show, seeing children run onto the runway to play, waving their arms in glee and the models holding them aloft on their slim shoulders. Now he has retired, retaining the enigma and guarding the purity of his ideas, we can luxuriate in the return of John Galliano as the new designer of the house. How wonderful.

Made by Alison Chernick for, this is a film to woo the shy artist in anyone. As a commenter in the movie noted,

“He proved that you could make things with nothing and that’s a very comforting idea for the world.”


Main Image: Screenshots from the movie, “The Artist Is Absent, by Alison Chernick.”

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