I’m not afraid to admit that over the last month, our current global climate had somewhat killed my creative spark. While I was still able to roll out of bed and log onto my laptop to edit articles, update our social media accounts and reply to my increasingly-daunting email inbox, these tasks were being completed on autopilot, an amorphous blur of administrative tasks and Zoom meetings.
I was starting to worry that I didn’t, that dedicating the last three years of my life to studying the subject was motivated by nothing more than a superficial curiosity, that surely this pandemic had proven to me that in moments of real human crisis, my expertise in new-wave designer and iconic it-bags rendered themselves useless, and by extension this entire industry, a frivolous parasite on a society that just doesn’t care right now.
I kept on working, but something didn’t feel right. I felt myself gravitating away from the subject in my work, focusing my attention elsewhere in the hopes of regaining the drive that my interest fashion once fuelled me with.
Around two weeks ago, documentary film company Dogwoof released its highly anticipated documentary Martin Margiela: In His Own Words for immediate home viewing. The documentary has been hyped since itsfirst announcement in May 2018, and with its production company boasting fashion cult-favourites Dior and I and First Monday In May, expectations were high. A trailer and theatrical release date were announced last October, and Maison Margiela fans eagerly awaited its release, myself included.
But as with many things, the unexpected arrival of the coronavirus pandemic obliterated schedules and with it, carefully strategised media campaigns and film premieres. Instead, the documentary was quietly released on demand via Google Play, iTunes and Youtube and, despite positive reviews, has already begun to fade into the back catalogue of underrated documentaries that never made it to the big screen.
The film is second in Reiner Holzemer’s series, the first a portrait of fellow-Belgian designer Dries Van Noten. The ultimate flaw of many fashion documentaries, even the sacred The September Issue, is their lack of critical voice. Mirroring the same lack of criticism found in the pages of women’s’ glossy titles, fashion documentaries of the past have typically worked under the assumption that if you’re talented or successful enough to have a documentary made about you, you’re immune from criticism, professional or personal. This keeps the fashion mogul happy, but lends itself to pretty shallow and one-dimensional portrayals of often incredibly complex and distressed characters.
Martin Margiela: In His Own Words is able to break this trope through its uniquely intimate approach – although we never see the anonymous designers’ face, we hear his personal accounts and watch his hands craft these now-iconic designs; the Tabi shoe, the Glove Bodice and the Wig Coat.
After weeks of confusion and depleting motivation, it was invigorating to hear creativity discussed with such seriousness and commitment.
The documentary’s highlight comes almost an hour into viewing as Margiela chronicles each collection made through the 90s, explaining the inspiration behind every idea and revealing how tenderly the seeds of inspiration that led to some of his most avant-garde designs were sewn. Never before have we been able to understand the designers’ perceptions of his own collections, which were always left open to interpretation.
After weeks of confusion and depleting motivation, it was invigorating to hear creativity discussed with such seriousness and commitment. Seeing such an influential talent recount each minor decision with such care, precision and thought reminded me not only of my own interest in fashion, but why this industry can and will be an important part of the cultural discourse surrounding the coronavirus – its ability to inspire, to react and to provoke.
Margiela’s influence on fashion is indelible, and his experimental practice revolutionised and inspired a new generation of designers. If you don’t know his design work Holzemer provides a comprehensive introduction, if you do it will prove as a reminder of his genius. From one fashion fan to another, this documentary should rank number one on your quarantine watchlist.