VOD film review: Martin Margiela: In His Own Words
Lack of criticism5
Ian Winterton | On 14, Apr 2020
Director: Reiner Holzemer
Cast: Martin Margiela, Cathy Horyn, Jean Paul Gaultier, Carine Roitfeld, Carla Sozzani, Sandrine Dumas
Watch Martin Margiela: In His Own Words online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / iTunes / Google Play / Sky Store
“I am probably too serious for that world,” says Martin Margiela of the fashion industry.
Of all the art forms – for art form it is – fashion is perhaps the most baffling for the uninitiated. Being brought into cloistered, unseen worlds is often the joy of a documentary; Senna, for instance, was a gripping watch regardless of one’s interest in Formula 1, and When We Were Kings succeeded in making millions of boxing agnostics understand why Mohammed Ali did what he did when fighting George Foreman.
But Martin Margiela: In His Own Words, to the majority of viewers, will be a tiring parade of stick-thin models wearing a series of ridiculously impractical outfits. Director Holzemer attempts to inject some intrigue into proceedings, by telling us up front that Margiela, after 20 years in the business, disappeared after his 2009 show, without a word, and slipped into retirement. But there’s no great mystery – if there was any great (that is, interesting) personal drama behind this, we’re given no hint of it here. No, this is merely a pedestrian account of Margiela’s rise from Jean-Paul Gautier’s assistant to one of the most influential fashion designers of the post-War period.
While the film’s as resolutely low energy as its subject, there are elements to recommend. The animations bringing Margiela’s sketch books to life are pleasing to the eye, and archive footage of a fashion show Margiela held in a deprived neighbourhood of Paris gives us a hint of what the film could have been; seeing laughing street kids running onto the catwalk, even given shoulder rides by grinning models, is a rare moment of joie de vivre in what is otherwise a dreary documentary.
It must be said, too, that there is zero criticism of Margiela or his work, nor the fashion industry as a whole. The female models are emaciated and predominantly pale. Only one, Sandrine Dumas, now a film director, is granted a voice here – and she, like all the other talking heads, is unequivocally positive. Margiela is a towering genius – end of. And yet, much of his oeuvre appears to consist of putting veils over women’s faces; in show after we see these faceless models – mannequins brought to life. It’s a striking look, sure, but sinister – more The Handmaid’s Tale than Pret a Porter. And, tellingly, a section in which we see a show of handsome and healthy men sees Margiela designing practical clothes.
Is anyone on hand to dissect the psychology behind Margiela? They are not. What we get instead is a dry hagiography. His main contribution to Western civilisation appears to be a white label inside his clothes, identified from the outside by the four white stitches used to affix it. Oh, and he designed cloven shoes that do look pretty cool.
Being told over and over of Margiela’s brilliance is wearying. This documentary is, when’s all said and done, an advert – and a dull one at that.