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Branding Beyond the Garment

Martin Margiela’s conceptual approach to fashion. Karl Lagerfeld’s Louis Vuitton punching bag. How tongue-in-cheek luxury objects became the new pop art.


The branded object has become a staple in luxury fashion, existing alongside wearable garments as a contemporary take on pop art. Balenciaga, the current leader of the conceptual product drop, presented its Couture FW22 show with Demna Gvasalia’s trademark dark, fetishistic designs on full display. One eye-catching accessory stood out amongst the rest: a jet-black Speaker Bag. Part Y2K curio, part conceptual artifact, the piece once again thrust Balenciaga into the spotlight as a luxury house continuously blurring the lines between fashion and art; the practical and the outrageous.

A look into the development of fashion-as-concept-art cannot begin without first mentioning Martin Margiela, the ur-deconstructionist whose studio was Gvasalia’s training ground once the Georgian designer graduated from the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts and moved to Paris. Inspired by the deconstructed approach of seminal Japanese designers Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto, Margiela made a name for himself in the late ’80s with his conceptually driven garments which reimagined and disconfigured the very purpose of the items. He developed a knack for stripping a garment to its core and building it back up, reframing its language and calling into question the assumptions of luxury apparel construction and tailoring. Take the house’s porcelain waistcoat from FW89, which began as a fine porcelain tableware set, later smashed and made valueless, then brought back to life as a delicate new garment. The designer’s approach was radical, as was his impact.

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