A sense of invisibility has been incorporated into the DNA of the brand since the beginning. Patrick Scallon, the right hand person to Margiela once characterised the marketing strategy of Margiela as “absence equals presence” and “the cult of impersonality,” indicating that it was a central part of the brand identity.
This cult of impersonality spread through the aesthetic of the brand:
Signage – Stores are never listed in phone books or identified with signage.
Uniforms – Staff at stores and at Margiela HQ wear standard white labcoats.
Colours – White – called “whites” in Margielaspeak – is the ubiquitous color of all stores, Margiela HQ, and of the sheets that covered all in-store furniture and displays.
Packaging – Margiela packaging is monochrome and logo free.
Models – Runway models at MMM more than any other designer often appear on the runway with covered faces.
Runway shows – Seating is mostly first-come, first-served, avoiding the industry standard of seating hierarchy.
Collective speaking – The brand used a first person plural response to all requests, emphasizing the collaborative, disciple-like consensus of their thoughts.
Photography – As Derek McCormack wrote in The National Post, the aesthetic of MMM’s photography “is reminiscent of spiritualist photography of the 19th century: Models are mysterious blurs, shots are bleached by unseen lights.”
As the brand became successful in the mid-90s, Martin Margiela retired completely from public view, at a time when the idea of the invisible designer found itself at odds the accelerated rise of celebrity culture. As other designers chose – or were required to become – famous; Margiela’s anonymity became louder than ever. And ironically, his invisibility became exponentially interesting to the media. No article was written without some reference to his invisibility. It was part of the appeal, it defined the brand. But the clothes still dominated.
The figure of Martin Margiela became relevant to wider debate – still going on – about the relationship between designer, celebrity, and the brand they represent; a debate summed up in this comment by Zac Posen:
“I think there’s a great divide in fashion right now between the desire of the old school, which valued being hidden and shy, and what is going to bring our industry forward, which is connection, personality and craft.”
In fact, Margiela uniquely was operating at both levels simultaneously. The hidden part was the personality. So far, so Jean Baudrillard.
“It would be awesome if they did their own past products. A luxury brand that used to stand for anonymity and mystery – with its own “Replica” line (22, I think) – doing a “Replica” series of their own product with a company (H&M) synonymous with mass access/appeal/production, using their most hyped product line (collaborations). It would put a nail in the coffin of MMM brand’s past in a quintessentially Margiela manner: cerebral, pretentious, clever to a fault, and hilarious.”