Who says that art and fashion don’t mix? For me, I see a clear connection between the two worlds. Although, the politics and protocol of these worlds may differ, and words like “high” and “low” are gratuitously mentioned, I see a direct correlation. You may have read our feature on Rankin or Alex Box (the make-up artist), or even our feature on the new generation of fashion photographers (that fantastic cover with Raquel Zimmerman), and so I think the most intriguing aspect of the clash of these two words, ultimately is the debate which follows.

When I saw that Somerset House was hosting Maison Martin Margiela ’20’ The Exhibition, which is a major show that celebrates 20 years of one of contemporary fashion’s most influential and enigmatic designers, I knew this was going to be good. Following the success of recent exhibitions ‘SHOWstudio’ and ‘Skin and Bones’ the exhibition explores the designer’s artistic and conceptual approach to fashion. Granted, Maison Martin Margiela isn’t as known as Jean Paul Gaultier (although Martin Margiela was an assistant with Gaultier before he set up his own label in 1988) or Channel, but maybe that’s the overall point with Maison Martin Margiela –their white labels and rejection of celebrity culture is captivating. It’s ironic when we know too much about someone / something, we don’t care, but when there’s mystery, we can’t get enough. Maison Martin Margiela has an attraction in the company’s ethos, but the designs they create are beautiful. I look at things from an aesthetic point of view, and this show really drives home for me, the art of fashion, the creative process, exploration of concept and materials.

The show was conceived in close collaboration with Maison Martin Margiela and curated by the Mode Museum, Antwerp, this exciting show makes its London debut where it will be specially reconfigured for the Embankment Galleries, following critical acclaim at the MoMu, Antwerp and Haus der Kunst, Munich last year. Employing a “deconstructivist” approach – monochromatic palette, outsized garments, non-traditional fabrics, the use of recycled materials and exposing the construction of his clothes – Margiela displayed a radically new visual language that diametrically opposed the power dressing of the 1980s (Think Margaret Thatcher). In deciding to let his fashion speak for itself and remain anonymous, Margiela as a brand is driven by product and sheer invention rather than fad, hype and celebrity often linked to other fashion labels.

This multifaceted exhibition captures Margiela’s unique vision spanning the past 20 years, by incorporating installations, photography, video and film. The show offers visitors the chance to learn more about the brand and its philosophy through a visual examination of themes that underpin the essence of the fashion house since its creation – from its deconstructivist, subversive design aesthetic and avant-garde couture to its understated branding, unusual boutique interiors and ‘trompe-l’oeil’ or optical illusion and its couture atelier white coats. Various iconic pieces from both the women and menswear collections are on display, such as the highly replicated “Tabi” boots, as well as specially recreated garments for the exhibition.

Somerset House Director, Gwyn Miles said: “We are delighted to be bringing Maison Martin Margiela’s major retrospective to Somerset House. This forms part of our aim to host an exciting year round programme of contemporary cultural exhibitions and events that reflects current trends in the creative industries, particularly in fashion and design. I hope this exhibition stimulates debate and ideas, and will go some way in establishing Somerset House as a genuine creative hub for London”.

Based on visiting this show, Miles’ vision is being realised. Somerset House’s commitment to showcasing the world’s most celebrated creative talents across fashion, art and design is happening. The show is vibrant and exciting, with fantastic installations, and high paced audio-visuals; and “Birthday Room” makes made me feel like I was there, at the show, and part of the audience. I loved the aesthetics, confetti and overall experience.

Maison Martin Margiela ’20’ The Exhibition continues until 5 September. Embankment Galleries, Somerset House, Entry £6


1. © Ronald Stoops.
2. Courtsey Somerset House
3. Artisanal © Marina Faust