WWD has reported today that Martin Margiela is officially no longer with the MMM and that the company’s creative direction will be forged ahead not by a single director, but a team.
Maison Martin Margiela, 1990
We still find ourselves almost 90 years later debating the reality of Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, whether they were in fact ready made or, as some scholars of have suggested, that Duchamp fabricated many of them himself. He understood conceptual art before the genre emerged and he understood the semantics of artmaking before anyone knew there was anything to understand. It’s this understanding of the system and defiant break from it that he shares with Martin Margiela, a dadaist fashion designer if there ever was one.
The Margiela mystique has become a fashion legend. Rumors were abound that the man didn’t even exist, and he easily could not have. No personal interviews, no photographs, no reception of applause at shows, no backstage, the man was a complete and total mystery. For most of his career his practice of severe self-inflicted privacy was unimaginable in an age where fashion designers moonlighted as celebrities. Margiela, eschewing the cult of personality, kept the attention on the clothes.
Now that every other Luxury brand is re-strategizing their designer’s creative roles and their public roles, the Maison finds itself yet again far ahead of the curve. The idea was always that the Maison was not defined by a single individual, and that allure turned out to be potent enough to evolve the brand into one the most covetable and highly respected. But in the face of Margiela’s departure, the base of the Maison — the principle that it is and always has been a collective — is disturbed.
Suzy Menkes surmises that Margiela’s new team centered approach (arrived at only after Raf Simons and Haider Ackermann turned down the job as creative directors) could forge a new direction on how large luxury brands are managed creatively. With the musical chairs of fashion there have been many interims between creative directors where a team was responsible for the company’s product. Some were successful, some less so, but there is a high plausibility that a brand could design this way and still maintain the standard in product as well as a focused image. The question is whether MMM will be the one to show the rest of industry how it’s done.
To insist MMM is a collective undermines Martin’s own talents and his contribution to the brand despite having never been a public spokesman. Doubt in the collective has been validated by the Maison’s most recent shows, the team designed collections have received mostly dismal reviews putting the label’s esteem as one of the premiere avant garde in grave danger. Diesel’s involvement in running MMM or its role in Margiela’s decision to exit the company is neither here nor there, but the fact that MMM’s design team must answer to Renzo Rosso’s buyers and merchandisers without a leader with clout to defend them further undermines the Maison’s integrity. All the while Diesel must mediate this publicly and ensure that Margiela’s legacy remains intact as they try to build it into a megabrand. It’s a tricky situation.
Designer labels, already entrenched in the codes and institutions of the luxury market, have easily lent themselves to market expansion and metamorphosis into a financial juggernaut. But MMM has always worked against these codes and institutions while increasingly finding relevance in the modern world. Margiela has always been about innovation and unique personalized problem solving, with this understanding the brand’s potential is infinite, but who will be keen enough to utilize it?