It’s easy to understand why nostalgia is more prevalent during times of turmoil. But the way I see it, turmoil can always be found. There’s a human tendency to fixate on current problems because we don’t have the aid of retrospect to pull us out. And at the same time, we often idealise the past to give purpose to what has been done. There’s no doubting that Martin Margiela created a remarkable fashion moment, as Linda Loppa would describe, but Patrick Scallon explained on Friday night, “you need to keep moving to stay relevant”.
Wanderlust hosted Vestoj’s Editor-in-Chief, Anja Aronowsky Cronberg, and Patrick Scallon, the Communications Director at Dries van Noten, previously at Maison Martin Margiela, to examine the ‘then and now’.
Anja and Patrick discussed today’s commercially driven industry, and how a lot of this came into being from the ‘Tom Ford Era’, as it was put, in the second part of the 90s. Tom Ford returned sex to the industry, and then people saw how much money could be made, and so developed the environment of conglomerates dominating the industry. With this came the money in accessories, for example. “There are a lot of companies today that aren’t about clothing”, suggested Patrick, and alluded to the dignity of Dries van Noten refraining from making accessories in this way.
Anja then asked how an independent company stays relevant and afloat in this world of big business. In response, “it’s in the craft of the clothes. When you see the Alaia exhibition, you can see the craft. [For Dries] it’s 100% his own company. He’s never borrowed money from the bank, and he lives and falls with his decisions.” Patrick continued to explain the problems of logistics: access to fabrics and manufacturing has been monopolised by the huge companies, who are in turn able to make clothes at a lower cost. “You have to be clever and it’s not always possible to get the clothes the way you would like”, though managing to maintain the craft is the bottom line for an independent designer.
The artistry of Martin Margiela is exactly why he was so celebrated in his time, especially considering his temporal overlap with the Tom Ford Era. In fashion, perhaps more than any other creative industry, we crave this art element. This is what Margiela represented, though as Patrick explained, there was such attention on his artistry that the hype inevitably dragged his work into the commercial world; “there’s a certain power that came with the fact that things were done by Margiela […] it was copied so widely simply because it was done by him.”
In Patrick’s discussions of his time at Maison Martin Margiela, romanticism never entered his tone. At best, he was reluctantly sentimental, but he certainly sliced through the whole “presence through absence” myth of Margiela. At the time, the zero-exposure of course fascinated people, especially during this moment when the industry was opening up like never before. Patrick mentioned how at one point he would spend hours with friends explaining why they couldn’t meet Martin and that it wasn’t personal; it began to take over his personal life, and so understandably he seemed hesitant to laud this mystery (even when Friday’s conversation was largely dominated The Margiela Fascination). He pointed out that it was Martin’s business partner who carefully designed this mystery. “She was the one that got the conceptual aspect to what Margiela became. A lot of the provocation – no interviews and no seating at shows […] – was very much her voice.” But she wasn’t the one getting the credit, hence another source of Patrick’s hesitancy.
Nevertheless as we all know, in the end the Maison had to concede because “it’s not dealing with resistance; it’s dealing with those who help. […] you need the press.” Even before its sale, this was perhaps the unavoidable point of change for the company; ‘this’ being the act of conceding to the constraints of the industry, when for so long, Maison Martin Margiela was revered for doing the opposite.
“In fashion we’re still pretty retrograde. For an industry that has a reputation for being modern, we’re stuck in the season system. If a designer doesn't want to design for one season, they’re done.” But even designing within the constraints of the out-dated calendar system, Patrick continued to explain that it isn’t enough. “[…] everyone has to do everything now; everyone has to become a mogul. It’s about cultural relevance.”