Martin Margiela: Silhouette Transformations

Photo: Stany Dederen

Photo: MoMu Antwerp / Stany Dederen

The influence of Martin Margiela on today’s fashion world cannot be underestimated: his challenge to the status quo of the fashion system, the status of the designer, model and the concept of the garment itself have changed the industry forever, and the consequences are still widely felt today. By looking at the designer through these narratives, one nearly overlooks his multiple silhouette innovations which changed the face of 1990s fashion and created a new concept of the garment in relationship with the body. To revive your memory, here’s a sampler of Margiela’s most game-changing silhouette transformations:

1. The Shoulder

When Margiela arrived on the scene in 1989, his introduction of a narrow-shouldered silhouette, in direct contrast with the hard-bodied, broad-shouldered women of the 1980s, set the tone for the new decade. The shoulderline was slim, and female and male shoulders were sometimes placed over each other in one garment. The focus on the shoulder instead of the waist as a structuring principle is an Eastern design concept which permeates Margiela’s career: much like in the work of Cristobal Balenciaga, the shoulder is the focal point for the silhouette. His narrow shoulderline from 89 morphed into many different shapes over the years, ending with the conical shoulder of his last collections.

Shoulder sketches by Martin Margiela

Shoulder sketches by Martin Margiela


2. Flat Garments

In Spring-summer 1998 and Autumn-Winter 1998-99, the Maison Martin Margiela collections had subthemes with two-dimensional ‘flat’ garments, which were totally flat when not worn, Reminiscent of Japanese origami principles, whereby the flat piece of paper is folded into a 3D object. The garments had displaced sleeves and necklines tilted to the front and were inspired by the shapes of plastic grocery bags. The eerie silhouettes included The ‘Flat’ collection was shown as a video presentation, sharing its location with the Comme des Garçons show of SS 1998.

Preparation booklets with images made by Martin Margiela for the video shown at the spring/summer 1998 collection presentation. Photo: Monica Ho

Preparation booklets with images made by Martin Margiela for the video shown at the spring/summer 1998 collection presentation. Photo: MoMu Antwerp / Monica Ho

Photo: Stany Dederen

Photo: MoMu Antwerp / Stany Dederen


3. The woman as living doll

In Summer 1997, the same season as Comme des Garçons’ Body meets Dress collection, Maison Martin Margiela dressed the female body in a Stockmann tailoring dummy, thereby also deconstructing the idea of the ‘ideal female body’ or a standardized body type. By dressing the living body in an inanimate dummy, the shrill contrast between the fetishized female shape and the real body beneath shows how alien this standardized shape is from reality. Like the shoulder motif, the motif of the doll as an idealized version of woman, is a recurring theme in Margiela’s work, which he deconstructs in different ways.

MMM SS 1997-1998. Photo: Stany Dedere,

MMM SS 1997-1998. Photo: MoMu Antwerp / Stany Dederen

You could see it as an answer to the surrealist tradition of fetishized female body parts, but from a more woman-friendly perspective. Similarly, his oversized collection (Italian size 78) from Autumn-winter 2000-01, in which found garments are blown up to a size 78, is a one-size fits all collection to be worn by all kinds of bodies and sizes, since size 78 fits no one and thereby, everyone.

MMM 2000 - 2001. Photo: Marina Faust

MMM 2000 – 2001. Photo: Marina Faust

Game Changers. Reinventing the 20th Century Silhouette now on display at MoMu Antwerp!

Words by curator Karen Van Godtsenhoven