The White Pages

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Published November 9, 2009

Belgian-born Martin Margiela, known as one of the ultimate craftsmen, has finally opened his personal archives. After covering his stores and employees in white cloth, it’s unsurprisingly that the first book dedicated to Margiela’s 20-year career is shrouded with starched white cotton, and embroidered with the white-on-white numeric logo.

Having graduated from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the 1980s, the now Paris-based Margiela opened his own atelier, thus taking his place among French fashion royalty. Previously, Margiela was Jean Paul Gaultier’s assistant–the latter penned the book’s introduction. Of course, Gaultier previously assisted Pierre Cardin, who was Christian Dior’s first tailor. Dior had worked for couturier Robert Piguet, who studied under Paul Poiret. Talk about an Oedipal sequence–although not many Jocastas and Cassandras figure in this game.

Designed by Margiela himself, Maison Martin Margiela (Rizzoli) is filled with show invitations, magazine clippings haphazardly scanned through plastic portfolio sleeves, archival photographs, and runway shots dating back to the first collection in 1989. It is finished with ribbon markers, several varieties of paper, and twelve booklet inserts dedicated to reproductions of emotional well-wishes and accounts of Margiela at various stages in his career written by the likes of Vanessa Beecroft and Carine Roitfeld.

There’s even a “Dummies Guide to Margiela”: a glossary of Margiela-isms in the back; footnotes and captions penned in silver describe the symbolism of each image. One such explanatory note breaks down the house’s numeric logo with help from a science fair-esque diagram. The explanations never seem mundane or tedious; they’re a tongue-and-cheek anatomy of the self-created myth of a house as conceptual as it is emotional.