Monday, December 14, 2009

Martin Margiela & Tom Sachs

by Stefanie Fagerberg

Martin Margiela, F 1998

In the 1980s and 90s, the general trend for fashion houses was to become iconic labels feeding on, and encouraging excessive consumerism. Martin Margiela is a designer who did not over indulge his brands image, commercialize his products, or adapt an aggressive marketing strategy, and chose rather to sell his clothes for what they were, clothes. Tom Sachs is an artist who uses brands comprehensively in his artwork, and seems to be commenting on the overrated power that brands are given in our society. Martin Margiela’s extremely low profile as a designer, and his minimalist brand logo and simplicity during the period between 1998 and 2004, can be compared to Tom Sachs’s extensive use of renowned brands in his artwork from 1995 to 2001.

Martin Margiela, S 2001

Martin Margiela was born in Belgium in 1957. He emerged as a designer in the late 1980s, amidst the wave of deconstruction, with contemporaries becoming superstars and pseudo-celebrities. He chose anonymity and refused to be photographed or appear before the press, staying backstage after the presentation of the collections, and agreeing only rarely to do exceptional interviews. Margiela was an innovator in the PR-driven fashion business.

His trademarks include:

his white aesthetic

use of old forms remodeled to make new garments

and his use of old mannequins and hangers to show his collections


minimal brand logo

Models faces/eyes covered

Use of recycled materials

Stores not listed in phonebook or identified by window displays

Photographic campaigns embodied the spiritualist photography of the 19th century

Stores model white aesthetic as does packaging

Salespeople use white lab coats

Tom Sachs was born in 1966 and grew up in Connecticut. He was first noticed when he installed a nativity scene for Barney’s store window in 1994, whose main star was a Chanel-clad Hello Kitty. His interest in American consumerism, pop culture and social mores has since led to the creation of a body of work that include, in some form or other, a re-creation of various modern icons of consumerism.

Tom Sachs, Chanel Chainsaw, 1996

Sachs has made a name for himself as an artist who makes a visual social commentary of society's dependence on designer labels, and the inherent status they connote, by taking capitalist culture, remixing it, and then spitting it back out again at us with an underlying social message. By juxtaposing luxury brands with evil, or less enjoyable products, he challenges the idea that ‘high fashion can do no evil’, and in fact highlights the fact that everyone and everything, including our idolized fashion brands, are capable of the ugly.

Tom Sachs, Hermes Gift Meal, 1998

Sachs mimics popular culture and values humor while Margiela was staying away from the popular way of doing things. Sachs’ art actively satirized America’s shift from an industrial to a consumer society, Margiela was a designer who was an exception to his contemporaries, and remained distant from intrusive marketing and excessive image-building. It would be safe to assume that Margiela is not a brand we can expect to see on a future Sachs’ art piece. They are both making a statement on the image-obsessed society of the 1990s and popular ideas concerning consumption, branding, commercial imagery and objects of money and power. They both used recycled materials - challenging the popular habit of disposing of old materials; and showed the process of making the garment or sculpture – revealing the work behind a finished product. Margiela’s creations went against the fashion of his time, as his house stood for the complete opposite of capitalist excess. Both Margiela and Sachs have a similar color palette – sticking to white and black. Margiela and Sachs were pushing norms of what was considered to be fashion or art and the public’s values, by their innovative choice of presentation, materials and marketing strategies. Overall, both these creators draw our attention to the darker side of the capitalist modernity that high-end fashion belongs to and defy the power of the iconic brand, attempting to be appreciated for their work, and not their label.

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