Martin Margiela: In His Own Words

 

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'Fashion's Invisible Superstar' revealed, but not literally

 

Martin Margiela: In His Own Words

 

There is no shortage of documentaries centred on fashion designers and indeed this film's director, Reiner Holzemer, previously made one about just such a figure, Dries van Noten, although this latest piece of his is, I believe, the first to be released here. That he is an experienced hand is clear enough from the way in which he has assembled the many extracts from archive material concerning Martin Margiela and blended them with fresh interview footage featuring colleagues, models and others with expertise in matters of fashion.

 

Such material may be par for the course in this kind of film, but Martin Margiela: In His Own Words has one feature that distinguishes it from others of its kind. There is perhaps a hint of it in the title since, while Margiela is naturally central here, what he contributes consists solely of his words on the soundtrack as he looks back and describes his career in detail. Margiela, who was born in Belgium in 1957, has embraced personal anonymity, never talking to the press and keeping his face secret. He remains true to that approach in this film allowing us to see his hands on occasion but otherwise being present only through his comments delivered in English. By way of explaining this choice that has marked his career, he denies that it was ever a gimmick asserting instead that it both allows his designs to be judged exclusively in their own right and that it also forms a protection which, by taking him personally out of the limelight, reduces pressures on him and enables him to keep his balance.

 

Holzemer's documentary offers orthodox but very smooth filmmaking, but Margiela's stand inevitably affects the way in which the film plays. After telling us at the outset of how the highly successful designer walked away from that career following a 20th anniversary show in Paris in 2008, it goes back to follow Margiela's history chronologically. He is heard discussing his childhood including the moment when on watching a TV programme about fashion at the age of seven he became aware of his destiny and giving due credit to the grandmother, a dressmaker, who was a key influence for him. But of his private life as an adult we learn virtually nothing at all. Consequently, in contrast to the fine but very different films made about Alexander McQueen and Manolo Blahnik (2018's McQueen and 2017's Manolo, the Boy who Made Shoes for Lizards), we never feel that we are getting to know the person. With that aspect being denied us, the emphasis is all on Margiela's designs as they developed over the years. His innovations, a stand against classical haute couture, started out as controversial but themselves became fashionable and that's something that applies too to his offbeat choice of venues for shows and his delight in turning to unprofessional models. His designs ranged from what was called street style to the reconstruction of second hand clothes and all of this is discussed and illustrated very fully. That does mean that far more than is sometimes the case in documentaries that share this setting it is viewers with a deep interest in fashion who are best catered for here. Nevertheless, even those who lack that passion will recognise this as a very able piece of filming.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Martin Margiela, Jean-Paul Gautier, Carine Roitfeld, Cathy Horyn, Olivier Saillard, Sandrine Dumas, Pierre Rougier, Stella Ishii, Kristina De Coninck, Lidewij Edelkoort, Mika'Ela Fisher, Ania Martchenko.

 

Dir Reiner Holzemer, Pro Reiner Holzemer and Aminata Sambe, Screenplay Reiner Holzemer, Ph Reiner Holzemer and Toon Illegems, Ed Helmar Jungmann, Music Deus. 

 

Aminata Productions-Dogwoof.
90 mins. Germany/Belgium. 2019. Rel: 10 April 2020. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. No Cert.