In Reiner Holzemer’s 2017 documentary about Dries Van Noten, the filmmaker gave viewers insight into the day-to-day life of the famously private designer. It makes sense, then, that Holzemer could also convince Martin Margiela – who has kept out of the public eye throughout his career – to be the subject of an equally personal biopic that relays the designer’s narrative from his own point of view.
Holzemer’s first-person approach to Martin Margiela: In His Own Words will not please those looking for a “big reveal” of sorts. Throughout the film, Margiela – who has avoided showing his face publicly – keeps his identity concealed. But, rather than muddy things, this device sets the tone for a documentary that’s intimate, enlightening and, most importantly, a credit to a man regarded as one of the most influential designers of the past 30 years.
Profiling Margiela – who left the fashion world in 2008 – was unlikely to be an easy task. As Jean Paul Gaultier says at the beginning of the film, people often asked what it would take for the Maison Margiela founder “to emerge from his shell”. What constitutes Margiela’s “shell”, however, is an idea that Holzemer unpacks throughout the film. The narrative, anchored by clips of the designer exploring his meticulously organised personal archive, weaves through the most poignant moments of his career: the 1966 Pierre Cardin dress that he asked his grandmother to make for one of his dolls; a jumper he crafted from tea towels; the inception of the house’s famed Tabi shoe; and his 41st and final collection.
What stands out most, perhaps, is Holzemer’s focus on Margiela’s hands. In one shot, they fix a tie on a mannequin’s shirt. In another, they pin a pattern to a roll of calico. Perpetually caught in the act of finessing, they paint a picture of the designer that’s more vivid than any photograph could be. Here, by way of Holzemer’s respect for Margiela’s craft, is where the designer invites the viewer into his “shell”, at which point it becomes palpable that his anonymity isn’t a hiding place but a space for him to create art freely. It’s a careful process, one that exhibits the work of a filmmaker who has elegantly matched his subject’s state of being with his own aesthetic lens.