"Closed for renovations, open to inspire at other locations" is a tagline you will read on almost all communication sent out by Antwerp's revered fashion museum MoMu. Although the building is shutting its doors until 2020, the institution’s curatorial and production teams are showing no signs of slowing down. Currently on view at Maurice Verbaet Center until early 2019, is the wonderful 'Soft ? Textile Dialogues' exhibition curated by Elisa De Wyngaert and the team also lent its expertise for the wardrobe-part of 'The Arenbergs' expo at the Museum M in Leuven.
But at this moment, MoMu's biggest tour de force is obviously the jet-setting marvel 'MARGIELA, THE HERMÈS YEARS', which (after Antwerp and Paris) just unveiled its third reiteration at the Artipelag museum in Sweden and KNOTORYUS was flown in for a preview.
MoMu director & curator Kaat Debo, who - together with scenographer Bob Verhelst and a couple of other MoMu-staff members - had travelled to Artipelag earlier to help set up the exhibition, called it "her favourite translation to date" and took the Swedish press (and us) on a tour.
Kaat Debo: "When I initiated the exhibition in Antwerp two years ago, I did it because I had been aware that Martin Margiela and his ideology had been coming up again in the press and that he was being talked about a lot. Almost ten years after he had stepped away from fashion, I thought it was really poignant how relevant and missed his vision still was. At the same time it was unfortunate that this work as creative director for Hermès from 1997 until 2003, did not have a digital or online presence – since this was before social media and the digital boom. As a museum, as MoMu, I thought that if we didn't highlight or study that work, it was at risk of disappearing in the folds of history. Meanwhile a lot of current designers were referencing it and I think that there are entire evolutions in fashion, intentional or not, that can be traced back to Martin’s work for Hermès."
The way the beautiful Artipelag museum is set up proved to be ideal for the juxtaposing-approach of the exhibition, almost always putting Maison Martin Margiela-silhouettes opposite or next to "Margiela for Hermès" looks. The high ceilings and wide spaces make it so that one can take a few steps back and get a full view of both worlds in one glimpse.
As I saw the exhibition for the second time, I got to marvel at Martin Margiela’s strategic mind once again. During his contract negotiations, Margiela had demanded carte blanche from Jean-Louis Dumas, who was CEO at Hermès at the time. But for every single thing he refused to do - use the old logo, design a carré, make his version of a Birkin - he gave them something in return. And for every demand he made - no use of bright colours, no costume jewellery or - gasps in Parisian - no logos, he offered a well-thought-out reasoning or sophisticated alternative.
Kaat Debo: “At the time, logos were very important but Martin didn’t like them and he wanted the Hermès silhouette to be as pure as possible. But, he compromised and developed buttons made with six holes instead of four. And in those holes, you could create an ‘H’ with your thread. So that way you got a very subtle logo. Hermès is known for its carrés, and which part of the carré would Martin use? The carrés have got hand-rolled seams that are sewn up by hand. He started applying that technique on the finishing of blouses and tunics.”
Together with Kaat Debo, the MoMu Antwerp team and the house of Hermès, Martin Margiela himself worked closely on the original inception of this exhibition, at one point even offering to make one of his “plastic bag tops” on the spot when Debo couldn’t immediately locate the specific design in MoMu’s archives. And apparently, this exhibition came with a lot of insight for curator, public and the visionary designer alike.
Kaat Debo: “Martin told me that initially he thought that he had kept the world of Maison Martin Margiela and the world of Hermès very separate. But by working on this expo, he said: “It’s only afterwards that I’ve noticed that a lot of ideas resurfaced”. And he found that a lot of his passions that were clear to see in his designs for MMM, popped back up at Hermès. And that’s what we’re trying to point out very clearly, these very subtle overlaps, because at first glance it might look completely different. Maison Martin Margiela was extremely avant-garde and Hermès is luxury fashion and you immediately recognise both as such. So in the exhibition we try to show that there was a single DNA. The DNA of one man who was able to create two worlds and where you can clearly tell it’s still him.”