A bright white screen illuminated the small movie theatre at Boijams van Beuningen museum in Rotterdam last Sunday. ‘We Margiela’ starts with a white shot, narrated by Jenny Meirens in Flemish.
This white screen seemed as symbolic as the blouses blanches (white apron-like coats) that are the iconic uniform of the Margiela staff. Everyone from the assistants to the head designer to the communications director wear them. The uniform removes hierarchy and ego, creates a sense of unity and in a way also provides protection and anonymity. The notion of this group allowed Maison Martin Margiela to function in the distinctive way that it did.
The impact of Margiela’s work is ongoing. It changed perspectives on beauty, the visual language that Margiela put in place is like a philosophy that reaches far beyond the fashion house. Everything that feels fresh now, from direct-to-consumer-business-models, deconstructivism, non-model castings, to name a few things, Margiela has laid out the blue prints for it. But, this is not what this film is about.
Documentary director Menna Laura Meijer tells the story of the elusive, unidentified group of creatives who nurtured the vision of Jenny and Martin. It is a sometimes romantic, but often very real series of chronologically ordered anecdotes as told by the original inner circle.
I feel that you can only fully appreciate this docu if you are familiar with the influence of Maison Martin Margiela. My mom wouldn’t understand why every single story these people tell, or even their faces on screen feels like such a huge deal for a Margiela admirer like myself. Noticing halfway through the film that the people surrounding us in this tiny theatre -literally in the seats behind us- were part of the Margiela team starring in the documentary. It was humbling. Though Martin never made an appearance in this film, at times it still felt like finding out the truth about the tooth fairy.
We Margiela moved me deeply. I feel it has an important underlying, encouraging message that is quite the opposite of what our current cynical, profit-driven, instant-gratification reality is telling us today. This story is about radically holding on to your own values, about determination, about creativity, about joy, about team work and about loyalty.
The white screen with Jenny’s voice-over provided recurring moments of making sense. It is almost like the Maison itself is speaking.
THE NETHERLANDS, opening October 26th:
Amsterdam – De Balie Amsterdam – Rialto Amsterdam – FC Hyena
Den Bosch – Verkadefabriek Den Haag – Filmhuis Den Haag
Eindhoven – NatLab
Hilversum – Filmhuis Hilversum
Maastricht – Lumiere
Rotterdam – LantarenVenster
Rotterdam – Museum Boijmans van Beuningen* Tilburg – Cinecitta
Utrecht – ’t Hoogt
BELGIUM, opening October 25th:
Antwerp – Cartoon’s Cinema Antwerp – MoMu (Fashion Museum)* Brugge – Cinema Lumière
Brussels – BOZAR
Genk – C-Mine
Gent – Sphinx Cinema
Leuven – Cinema ZED-STUK
The screening was followed by a panel discussion led by curator Annemartine van Kesteren, with Patrick Scallon, former Press Director of Maison Martin Margiela – Fashion Journalist Milou van Rossum and We Margiela film director Menna Laura Meijer. Here are some interesting gems from that 60 minute conversation
Patrick Scallon / What I as most nervous about that I didn’t want this to be seen as dragging attention onto themselves on the back of what was Margiela. The culture of the company was to not draw attention. So even this panel discussion today, even attending was something that was a big debate. Working alongside a designer, part of our role is to be in the shadows as a facilitator. The overall project is: the work. What’s very uncomfortable frankly, is that you don’t want to be seen or participate in something that takes some of that attention. I would say that, when you participated in the Maison, you felt that with what Jennie and Martin had established – in the work that we were doing we were standing on the shoulders of giants. We were given total freedom to operate within a very clearly defined and very inspired and joyous concept.
Annemartine van Kesteren / Menna, how did you approach the main question, who is ‘we’? Did you realise it was impossible yet possible?
Menna Laura Meijer / In the beginning I was really interested in the whole idea of invisibility. Because Martin was not there, it was obvious to look for something that was there – which turned out to be the group of course. And at the same time this whole notion of a “we” is also slightly romantic. Because there is not really a we. We represents more of a dream, where you feel comfortable in. But in the end it does’t really work that way. For me it was also really important to bring it down and to question this whole idea of us all being very overly romantic about it.
Annemartine / Did you ever contact Martin?
Menna / Ehm. Yeah.
Annemartine / Did you ask him to be involved in the documentary?
Menna / Yes.
Annemartine / What was his answer?
Menna / No.
Annemartine / What a surprise.
Menna / But it a certain way it was also irrelevevant.
Milou van Rossum / I think we are now living in an enormous Margiela moment. Even among the young people who have never seen a Margiela show there is this longing for real creativity. I have to say that a lot of what is now shown is so commercial and almost cynical. The selling of the logo. Often you are feeling that you are not looking at fashion but at merchandise. Promotion. Branded products. I think there is this longing for honesty in fashion. Of course there is Vetements as you all may know literally used patterns of Margiela. One of their first shows was in a gay night club. All these people who used to go to the Margiela fashion shows in the nineties were happy about this seemingly underground youth feeling. But of course this time it was much more cynical and more about the money I think. But you could really feel the longing for something like that. I feel that even though fashion is much more corporate nowadays, there is a space for young designers to do their own thing.
Annemartine / So the Margiela moment of now, is it that specific space that you mention, the longing for research?
Milou / Yes and for form. And not just embellishing clothes. And of course there is this whole library, it’s almost like designers used the language of Chanel for many many years. Now there is this whole library of language of Margiela. And you can not only see it at Vetements but you see it at so many different brands. He did so much in such a short time. There is so much to find for everybody. So it really lives on.
Patrick / And one of the other things that makes it easier for Margiela peers, fellow designers, to be heavily influences or even copy Margiela, was that Martin wasn’t there as an individual claiming it. Even though we were working very hard, people forget that we were working on a very small proposition. And a lot of people didn’t like it at the time. A lot of people didn’t like the shows at the time. I worked at Margiela for 16 years in communications and I have never met Anna Wintour. What people have to understand is that there was a price to pay. Jenny was extremely courageous. There were people who said, we can get Anna down to the show, all you have to do is send a card, a gift, flowers and she’ll be ther. And we don’t do that. You have to politely decline. Many times people have proposed help, for example one of the first projects. I remember Martin having to get on the phone with a prominent French Editor working for an American Magazine at the time whose said; ‘listen, we’re about to arrive. We’re at Cafe Flor and we’re finishing our lunch with Claudia and she’s delighted to do it.” And there were literally about to arrive in the office in an hour. Initially we wanted to use women who were not models. And I said, I’m sorry we’re not using women who are known. This was like an 8 page in a magazine. So the price to pay was that those pages fell. And this was someone who thought was helping us out because Claudia Schiffer was willing to do it.
Annemartine / Ruthless in following the beliefs. And that’s an advice to the younger generation working today. That’s what you learned from Jenny?
Patrick / Absolutely.