“I wanted to change certain things that I didn’t agree with in the fashion system. Shows and sittings and press, all details like this. In every step we made, we wanted to have our own strategy.”
Within the present whirlpool of our increasingly corporatised trend business, visionary creativity is usually lowered to particular person authorship. This authorship is individual as a result of it’s the entity that is most simply instrumentalised when, say, taking over roles as artistic directors at major international trend houses — simply take a look at the abrupt break-up of Parisian model Vetements’ collective spirit as solely one in every of its members, the Georgian designer Demna Gvasalia, was appointed at Balenciaga. It’s individual because in style, what is fetishised and mythicised is the maker, the genius, the couturier. The fashionable dressmaker is essentially understood as a sort of lonely artist by accident placed inside the equipment of capitalist consumption, the latter of which not often receives any consideration and positively not accolades. But in fact, behind each nice designer story, there’s a good larger enterprise story. For higher or for worse, avant-garde design’s power lies in its impression on everyday lives, and through consumption.
Certainly one of such tales is that of Jenny Meirens. The Belgian businesswoman co-founded crucial brand of the 90s, Maison Martin Margiela, and ensured its monetary and artistic viability for almost 20 years. Having defied fame to a fair larger extent than her enterprise associate (who famously by no means gave an interview, and whose absence at his own model was solely realised a number of years after his departure), Jenny was the quiescent spine of a completely new method of doing trend — a legacy whose immensity only continues to increase in the present day in trend faculties throughout the globe. As I attempt to clarify this to her over the telephone on a sunny day in Spring, overwhelmed with the truth that she’s within communicative attain, Jenny states, humbly: “Thank you. Thanks a lot.”
But in reality, Jenny’s story begins a lot earlier, as she was already an established identify in the Belgian trend business before the fruitful synthesis with Martin Margiela (then still a scholar at the Royal Academy in Antwerp). Getting into the booming textile business of Belgium via her marriage, she ran a notable concept retailer in Brussels within the 80s with outstanding avant-garde Belgian and European designers; most notably, there was also Yohji Yamamoto. “I was very interested in the Japanese when they arrived,” she recollects clearly — a lot so that she opened and operated an unique Comme des Garçons franchise in Brussels just a few years later.
She first met Martin when she sat within the jury of the Golden Spindle, the famous state-sponsored design competition hosted by the Royal Academy in Antwerp, conceived to advertise Belgian designers and the textile business. “Antwerp and Brussels were quite different: there was more happening in Brussels than in Antwerp at that time,” she recollects. “Several experimental dance groups were setting up in the city, so there was a lot going on in the music industry. But on the fashion side, more things had been happening in Antwerp.” The Antwerp Academy instituted its well-known style division within the 1960s, however rose to national and international prominence beneath the tenure of style educator Mary Prijot within the 80s, resulting in the graduation and worldwide export of the Antwerp Six in the same decade (notably, Jenny refers to the group because the Antwerp Seven, referring to the uncredited member Margiela). In her six-year term, the fierce educator oversaw the training of Dries Van Noten, Marina Yee, Dirk Van Saene, and Ann Demeulemeester amongst others (Demeulemeester gained the inaugural Golden Spindle in 1982, the yr of Bikkembergs’ commencement) — and of course, Martin Margiela, who Prijot as soon as claimed “was strong from the very beginning.”
“Although he never won the competition, it was through there that I met him several times, and came to know him better,” Jenny explains. “Afterwards, he was very interested in the way I did my shop, and he would often visit it in Brussels. I organised exhibitions and shows, and each time, he would come. That’s how we became friends, and started talking about different things.”
“Fashion business doesn’t have to be a compromise on creativity. I think it’s really a total misunderstanding with young people today, who think that being more commercial means being less creative. Actually, it should be the opposite.”
In the meantime, Margiela had begun aiding Jean Paul Gaultier in the early- and mid-eighties, and found himself positioned within the spectacular epicentre of the Parisian high trend world, then at the peak of sartorial glamour (“I already knew he was good, but I didn’t realise to what extent,” Gaultier famously stated afterward. Paradoxically, Gaultier was to switch his former assistant as Hermes’ artistic director when Margiela stepped down in 2003). But in 1987, he returned to the store in Brussels to propose to Jenny a critical supply. “He wanted to start his own company, and he proposed to me that I should join in the creation of it,” she retraces with some amusement. “I was concerned, but said yes immediately.” And so started the Margiela model, which was to transgress and redefine the very definition of style in the final decade of the 20th century. Not with out wrestle, though: Jenny admits that Martin was more concerned with making than with doing enterprise. “He was not interested in the business side. Not at all. The opposite! He was convinced, because he came from Gaultier, that we would immediately find an investor who would pay for everything. I told him immediately that it would not be possible. Obviously it didn’t happen, so I told him that we needed to start a small company instead. He never was interested in the business. Every decision, he left it to me.”
Yet, despite this disinterest, business strategy lies at the coronary heart of Margiela’s conceptual oeuvre. As the top figure of the 90s anti-fashion movement that redefined sartorial understanding of development, shape, silhouette and materiality, embedded into his (or slightly, their) follow was also a robust subversive critique of the style system as an entire. As a seasoned purchaser and trend business insider, Jenny developed by way of her collaboration with Martin a approach to subvert the skilled and communicative buildings of clothes. Famously, it was within the 90s that Margiela and Meirens held trend exhibits in circus tents; included brass music and operating faculty youngsters in the presentation of the collections; requested editors to negotiate their very own seating at exhibits based mostly on degree of importance; and most significantly, utterly removed labels on their garments to counter the fetishised authorship of high trend. “A lot of things I did by intuition,” Jenny admits as we talk about these moments. “It was my own opinion, and I wanted to change certain things that I didn’t agree with in the fashion system. Shows and sittings and press, all details like this. In every step we made, we wanted to have our own strategy.” Wanting back, these initiatives, remembered and forgotten, have been an equally essential constituent of the brand Martin Margiela. “There was no strategy behind it as such. We only wanted to have more democracy. We wanted everyone to experience fashion in the same way.”
Whereas it appears harmful in the present day, democracy was a far outcry in an business that is traditionally and notoriously elitist, classicist and hierarchal. Pre-high road, the buyer experience of excessive style was reserved to a select few; as an business structured around an archaic system of Paris couturiers in the 1800s. “With democracy, it was not only about the way the clothes were shown, but I think really in the way that the whole company worked,” Jenny provides. “The people who were working in the different departments had more to say in every decision. The people we brought in to work in the studio as stagières [interns] would become head of commercial affairs after a few years. There was this very human approach on all levels.”
Discussing these early methods of communication and branding, Jenny remembers the entire synthesis of creating and communicating style. “On every detail, Martin asked my opinion. We collaborated a lot on certain things. With the clothes themselves, I attended the fittings and he often asked my opinion. The rest of the branding, we decided together – and certain things I decided on my own,” she laughs amicably.
General, Jenny finds at this time’s constructed gap between art and commerce, or style design and trend enterprise, to be a large misconception. “I think the commercial was at least as important as the collection itself,” she states. She was never unsure that the power of the brand Margiela lay within the multidisciplinary collaboration between Martin the designer and Jenny the businesswoman; approaching and enjoying with each facet of their brand with equal enthusiasm and innovation. “Fashion business doesn’t have to be a compromise on creativity. I think it’s really a total misunderstanding with young people today, who think that being more commercial means being less creative. Actually, it should be the opposite.” Right here, Jenny’s daughter Sophie, a long-term Margiela worker and present tutor on the Flanders Trend Institute, joins in: “Thinking creatively about business was all Jenny’s input. She had a creative way of thinking about business. Together with Martin they decided to do things not just like what was in fashion, in the way you do a fashion show. It is less known because they were less public, but even the showrooms were controversial; the organisation and presentation of the clothes was very new and personal.”
Jenny and Martin staged their first present in Paris in 1988 to raving critiques, and acquired the distinguished ANDAM fellowship the yr after. Catching the momentum of the Antwerp Six (who had invaded London’s Olympia Hall trend truthful two years earlier) and enjoying the aftershock of the so-called ‘Japanese Invasion’ into Paris a decade earlier (allowing an entire new type and language of trend to be proven and worn), it might seem that style was prepared for his or her subliminally subversive imaginative and prescient. But as we talk about these early years, Jenny far from romanticises the efforts that went into establishing a highly conceptual trend brand. “There was a lot of struggle in the beginning,” she underpins. “There was not just one difficult thing. It starts with the clothes, it starts with production, it starts with the way we did fashion shows. Everything. A lot of struggle.” The duo would work intently collectively, planning each transfer of the model from all elements and perspectives. “We would fight until the end,” she merely states. Did she ever contemplate quitting, I ask her politely? “No, never,” she replies promptly. “I believed in it. For the long term, I believed in it. But I was very conscious that the way we did it, it would take more time.”
We talk about the golden guidelines of trend enterprise, and what advice she would give to younger practitioners beginning their very own manufacturers at the moment. As with Martin and herself, she underlines the invaluable information that comes with working for another person – regardless of their similarity to you – earlier than starting one’s personal endeavour. “The best you can do is to work for somebody else for a couple of years,” she tells me. “To learn and listen to what is going on there. And then, to realise that if they want to start their own company, it will be very difficult the first years. At least five years. The best advice is to be extremely realistic. And to find a particular way of doing your way; to find your identity, and to make it strong. The stronger it is, the better it is. And apply this identity not only to your collection, but throughout your complete business.”
“The best advice is to be extremely realistic.”
And somewhere along the road, success did arrive. Jenny felt this because the workload increased, and their partnership grew into a bigger company construction. “There was so much to do that every person had to have their own responsibilities, and you cannot do everything together. You start needing to do your own area with your own people.” Furthermore, in 1997, Martin assumed the position of artistic director at Hèrmes. More and more, Margiela turned the last word identify of the new millennium.
Jenny bought the Margiela model to Renzo Rosso’s OTB Group in 2002, 14 years after staging their first show in Paris. For some time, quintessentially for Martin’s absent authorship in his name-sake label, it was uncertain whether he was nonetheless concerned with the brand; finally, in 2009, it was publicly announced that neither Martin nor Jenny any longer had any affiliations with the brand. Martin was, nevertheless, absolutely involved with the Maison till 2008, when he concluded his career with the present of the company’s 20th birthday. In response to his long-time photographer good friend Marina Faust, who is the one one to have documented his complete profession, Martin didn’t renew his contract with Renzo Rosso in 2008; Rosso decided to not announce this to the public for fairly some time, which created ‘a kind of limbo situation’.
In some ways, 2002 marked the beginning of the top for 90s avant-garde anti-fashion, in addition to the idyll of unbiased trend production; the noughties as an alternative saw the rise of the fashion conglomerate, a system so extraordinarily prevalent immediately. Jil Sander terminated collaboration together with her namesake brand in 2004, 75% of which was by then owned by the Prada Group; Helmut Lang bought his company in 2005 to holding firm Hyperlink Concept; and in 2013, Ann Demeulemeester left her eponymous label owned by BVBA 32, never to return. “I understand everyone who leaves fashion – no problem,” Raf Simons expressed in a current interview, sympathising together with his Belgian predecessors that may slightly depart than to lose independence. He give up Dior weeks later, reportedly “for personal reasons”.