Unraveling the Archive: Hermès, Fall/Winter 1998
Martin Margiela is a designer known for his avant-garde designs, deconstructive tendencies, and overall sense of rebellion. A decade after launching his Maison, the Belgian designer–often considered a satellite of the Antwerp Six–was brought in by Hermès’ visionary boss, Jean-Louis Dumas. It was 1997 and fashion had taken a new turn, crowning John Galliano and Lee McQueen.
Margiela and Hermès was an odd marriage. How would Margiela's hectic vision and scavenger spirit fit the world of a French house whose ethos was set in order and beauty, luxury, calm and voluptuousness? The challenge was thrilling for Margiela: "It is exciting for me to have a means to express certain aspects of my vision through my respect of a house of tradition, quality and technical expertise such as Hermès," he told the New York Times at the time of his nomination. Although he was creating accessories for his own brand, Margiela was only given the reigns of the ready-to-wear collections, working with up-and-coming designer Tomas Maeir.
His debut collection, for the Autumn/Winter 1998 season, remains a symbol of
minimalism at its most opulent state. Women in their forties and fifties strutted in
oversized wool and cashmere jumpers and coats and sported German Army Trainers
on their feet. Whether it was a floor-sweeping caramel coat, a heavy gravel grey roll-neck, or chocolate trousers, Margiela offered neutral yet warm, welcoming pieces. There also were stoles, casually held by the models, l’air de rien. The genius of the collection can also be found in the fun Margiela had with proportions, proposing sleeveless and short-sleeved jumpers, and plunging V-necks sweaters.
At Hermès, Margiela provided collections for the brand’s customers–the mature connoisseur craving good craftsmanship and understated luxury—not the young It-girl. It was not about competing with John Galliano’s sumptuous Christian Dior or Lee McQueen’s transgressive Givenchy. Martin Margiela’s mission at Hermès was to bring to the brand a sense of reality rather than proceeding to the creative disruption for which he was reputed. With this first collection, Margiela rejected frivolity; he put forward craftsmanship, purity, and went against the disposability of fashion.