Imagined, Observed, Remembered: My Mother's Dress
Margiela’s trompe l'oeil dress was always my favorite piece in my mother's closet. As a kid, I looked at the garment with a sense of wonder, observing how each and every sequin, although just printed, reflected an artificial radiance. An image of a dress in its perfect moment unceasingly hit by a flash of light, Margiela’s trompe l’oeil dress is deceitfully alive with movement yet forever frozen in time.
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My mother, Bridget, purchased the Margiela dress in Milan during a visit in spring of 1996, and to this day she claims it is the most special dress she ever saw during her thirty-year career as a fashion buyer. Light and adaptive, its technical brilliance and wearability continues to amaze me almost twenty years later. Margiela tricks the viewers in two ways: the printed sequins give the illusion of a much more grand, intricate garment, while the cut disillusions and draws the eye towards the body. Its subtle grace and unpretentious elegance are what draws me in so strongly—this dress represents an ideal image of my mother’s effortless style.
Margiela’s Spring/Summer 1996 collection centered around this theme: trompe l'oeil, or "trick of the eye," where the viewer is deceived and believes a two-dimensional image to be a three-dimensional object. My mother’s dress is a visual illusion much like the rest of looks Margiela showed on the catwalk. His trompe l'oeil two paneled skirts, sweaters, and slip dresses became an iconic moment that was instantly etched into Margiela’s lore. The collection used photo printed images of vintage clothing and recreated them onto contemporary silhouettes.
Nearly twenty years later, one of fashion’s most talked about designers, Demna Gasvalia, continually channels Margiela’s energy when creating clothing for Vetements. His recent Fall/Winter 2018 collection—in fact, his entire design ethos—mimics the past work of Margiela. Maison Martin Margiela's garments have always referenced fashion history, but deconstructed it, spliced it, printed it, and re-materialized it. He began his career repurposing and collecting flea market garb—the practice of reconfiguring and giving new life to tired garments is a facet of Margiela’s design DNA. Yet paralleling this very concept is the entire Vetements brand: Vetements translates to “clothes,” and that’s just what Gasvalia is making—simple garments with a subtle twist. His Fall/Winter 2018 show didn't originate from the flea market, but rather, was presented there—paying subtle homage to Margiela’s humble beginnings.
Both Gasvalia and Margiela are sartorially clever because of their graphics and cuts. Garments are taken apart and even dissected to create something new, suggestive, and forward-thinking, laden with images and language. Vetements show t-shirts drawn by Swiss schoolchildren said, “elephant in the room—” perhaps the elephant being Margiela’s omnipresent influence on Demna’s hand as a designer. These t-shirts were fashioned out of jersey, but it was their images that referenced Margiela’s Spring/Summer 1990 invitations fashioned by schoolchildren. The resemblance between the two houses is strikingly uncanny.
"[Margiela is] a way of loving clothes, of breaking rules," says Gasvalia. So, Margiela as a noun, as Gasvalia may suggest, is reification—it is reminiscent of a thing, rather than being the actual thing, and this spirit of defiance is ever-present in Margiela's design. The Vetements show draws from this trick of the eye with sheer tattoo tops that give the illusion of tattoo sleeves, much like Martin specifically created in 1989 and his printed garments of 1996. The trompe l'oeil dress is a hallmark of Martin's best work at the house—it was key amongst many of his witty signatures. Its beauty is seductive and subtle, a visual language that transcends time and trends. My mother's Margiela dress still fills me with the same sense of wonderment I felt as a child, and although it's something I'm letting go of, that feeling will never be lost.