Inside the Mind of Martin Margiela

Filmmaker Reiner Holzemer explores the legacy of the elusive designer in his illuminating documentary.

Writer: Kristin Anderson Photos: Courtesy of Oscilloscope

To maintain an air of true, where-are-they mystery in 2023 is no small feat. In the era of social media, few are able to cultivate and keep up Banksy-esque anonymity. Martin Margiela, the fashion world’s infamously enigmatic icon who left both his namesake label and the public eye over a decade ago, is one such figure. Recent years have brought little more than murmurs of sightings and the occasional rare public statement. Margiela does not grant interviews; he is not photographed.

While Margiela has not shown his face in years, his provocative legacy lives on, its influence traceable in work of Virgil Abloh at OFF-WHITE and Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga. It’s that legacy which is the subject of Margiela: In His Own Words, a documentary from acclaimed filmmaker Reiner Holzemer. With a much lauded film about another ‘designer’s designer’ under his belt (2016’s excellent Dries), Holzemer became the first director to receive unprecedented access to Martin himself. Though his likeness is never shown, In His Own Words explores the icon in far more revealing ways. We see his hands leafing through childhood sketchbooks of early designs, speaking about his first aspirations to the world of fashion. From his fears to his frustrations, there’s a striking humanity to the film. 

Early runway models speak about the gentle, always active presence who helped dress them backstage. The brand’s storied Spring/Summer 1990 debut was staged on a derelict Paris playground, with plenty of kids among attendees in addition to the industry’s bold-faced critics. Its raw, punky minimalism subverted all the hauteur of the traditional fashion institutions; it would set the stage for the groundbreaking work he would create until quietly departing his namesake label in 2008.

GOAT spoke with Holzemer about the daunting task of capturing the essence of the man, and how his subversive spirit resonates today—perhaps more than ever.

[Margiela] wants commercial success, but not for the price of selling your soul. For him, the most important thing is to do something that has never been seen before.

Reiner Holzemer