c studio design hero pt 1

Hannah Lesser
Martin Margiela
Published in
15 min readJan 27, 2022


who will my design hero be? i’m pretty sure i don’t want to focus on a graphic designer, just because i’d like to explore my other interests and i’m excited for the style of my designed projects to reflect the style of that designer in a different medium. i’m particularly interested in fashion, and also interested in exploring architecture.

fashion designers i’m intrigued by:

  • issey miyake
  • iris van herpen
  • rei kawakubo
  • yohji yamamoto
  • martin margiela
  • rick owens
  • raf simons

possible architects:

  • alvaro silza
  • luis barragán
  • frank gehry
  • antoni gaudí
  • alvar aalto
  • eero saarinen
  • oscar niemeyer

berthold lubetkin

i’m inspired by these designers not necessarily because of the aesthetic beuty of the finished product (although they are all beautiful), but more because of their approaches to fashion or architecture and their philosophies behind their designs or firms. it will be hard to decide who to choose.


after a lot of research, i’ve landed on martin margiela and berthold lubetkin. it was a close call between martin margiela and yohji yamamoto. they both came about as a part of the same anti-fashion movement in the early 90s. while yohi yamamoto still designs today, martin left maison margiela in 2009. it was also difficult to decide between berthold lubetkin and alvaro silza. alvaro silza still works today, while berthold lubetkin was most active in the 1930s. i think i appreciated lubetkin’s political message more.


i’ve decide my design hero is martin margiela. i chose him partially because while there is not a lot of content of him avilable (he enjoys reculisivity), there is audio available of him speaking in a documentary (which costs $15 btw). but i mainly chose him because i felt like i really connected with his fashion ideology. i also just think his clothes are beautiful.

why did i choose martin margiela?

  • his reuse and reclaiming materials / sustainability
  • distressed, unconventional materials
  • fashion shows in unconventional locations
  • creating a universe and bringing you into that universe
  • embraced the imperfect and unfinished
  • not caring about establishement fashion etiquette


i’ve spent a lot of time researching martin margiela. there are a few books i’m thinking about buying — mainly this one, which he oversaw the writing of.

i also watched this compilation, which is an analysis of his first 15 shows.

using this initial research, i crafted my first three moodboards:

my moodbaords were divided into three general eras: the establishment of maison martin margiela, the six years he worked as the creative director of hermes, and his last five years as head of maison margiela. it is worth noting that while he was creative director at hermes, he was still working actively at maison margiela.

the official typeface for maison margiela is goudy old style. in most of their official publications, they use courier pro for large sections of text. the typeface for hermes is memphis bold, which is what’s used in the second moodboard. as maison margiela moved later into the 2000s, they began using helvetica bold for their replica and number logos.


brett said i should explore type more extensively in my moodbaords.


my essay:

During the 1980s, Japanese avant-garde fashion designers like Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto influenced the global fashion scene with their eccentric and ground-breaking designs. Martin Margiela and the Antwerp Six would soon carry on the work, revolting against the luxurious fashion world, presenting lines with oversized, exaggerated proportions and with exposed linings, seams and hems on the runway. This came to be known as the “anti-fashion” fashion movement. Even during his relatively short career in fashion, Martin Margiela managed to leave a huge impact on the industry, and his legacy is still felt today.

Margiela was born April 9, 1957 in Genk, Belgium. His father was a hairdresser and his mother a seamstress. Growing up, Martin always had an inclination towards fashion. He was inspired by the works of Pierre Cardin and by watching 1960s Parisian fashion shows on television with his mother. He also loved dressing dolls when he was a child, which would later inspire his collection “A Doll’s Wardrobe” in 1994. He graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp in 1979, a year before the avant-garde fashion collective the Antwerp Six. After graduation, he relocated to Paris and worked as a freelance designer for five years. Between 1985 and 1987, he worked as an intern under celebrated designer Jean Paul Gaultier, before showing his first collection for his own label Maison Martin Margiela, which he started with his business partner Jenny Meirens in 1989. Between 1997 and 2003, he was the creative director of the Hermès women’s line. He left Maison Margiela and the fashion world entirely in 2009.

Martin valued anonymity, a practice he has kept consistent up to the present day. He does not have a known significant other or any known children. During his 20-year fashion career, he never gave a public interview and stopped walking out onto the runway after shows in the early 90s. Maison Martin Margiela used “we” in their public communications, which were always distributed by fax. Martin’s retreat from fame was mainly due to the initial criticism he received, especially after his spring/summer 1990 show. He decided early on that the spotlight was not for him because it negatively affected his work and his creative process. There are very few public photos of Martin. Even in the 2019 documentary Martin Margiela: In His Own Words, Martin’s voice is heard, but the viewer never sees his face. Models in many of his shows had veils wrapped around their heads so as not to distract the audience from the true art, the clothes themselves. The audience at the shows only saw the clothes and the movement of the clothes on a body. If their faces were not veiled, it was obvious that his models were more reflective of regular women, not supermodels. He often used street casting to find models of unconventional beauty. Models were also seen walking the runway with their boyfriends or children in earlier shows.

Many of the large fashion houses during the 1980s were releasing flashy, inconsistent collections that usually followed a theme, such as “The Russia Collection” or “The Brazil Collection”. Martin sought to create a label that brought the wearer into a sort of universe. Even between lines that on the surface seemed very different, all of the pieces remained true to the brand’s core characteristics. This idea was especially evident in Margiela’s spring/summer 1994 collection, which did not feature any new designs, but rather a selection of pieces from his past 10 seasons, all dyed the same shade of gray. This show proved that Martin was creating a cohesive world with consistent themes, not simply an amalgamation of incoherent collections. The show was hosted in the Maison’s all white Paris studio. At the time, most mainstream studios were all black with designer furniture. Because Martin preferred to be different, he made his studio all white. And the studio was entirely white. Every wall, floor, and ceiling was painted white. If the furniture was not covered in sheets of white cotton, it was also painted white. Most of the furniture Martin found in thrift stores or flea markets.

Margiela became known for hosting his runway shows in unconventional locations, including an abandoned train station, a circus theater, a playground, and a Salvation Army. Sometimes there was no runway at all. During the Spring/Summer 1991 show, the models were doused in the scent of patchouli before walking out, so people knew they were coming. The first model walked through the crowded parking garage with people milling about, quite literally creating the runway as she walked. The other models followed the path she created. There was also never any assigned seating at Margiela’s shows, it was always first come, first serve. He would often make journalists travel to further “arrondissements” (boroughs) of Paris if they wished to attend his shows. This was during a time where standard practice was for houses to host shows inside large tents set up outside the Louvre. These factors (and others) annoyed many mainstream journalists, but they still attended because they knew Margiela’s influence on fashion.

The house was also infamous for creative and sometimes cryptic invitations to shows. For his first show, the house placed an inconspicuous ad in the local newspaper. No one noticed the ad. The house then circled the ad with red magic marker and sent out the newspaper as the invitation. For another show, recipients received a voicemail which gave instructions for how to get to the show in different languages. Another signature of the early work of Martin Margiela was the blank white label on all of his garments, barely held together by four stitch marks in the corners, which were visible on the outside of the garment. Martin wanted people to buy the clothes because they felt connected to them, not because of a label name or than a flashy tag. The house would not start their number labeling system until 1997.

But more than anything else, Margiela was known for his new and unconventional approach to clothing, redefining the relationship between person and cloth. The concept of deconstruction embraced by Kawakubo was also an integral part of Margiela’s fashion philosophy. Margeila would often take second-hand garments found at Parisian flea markets or thrift stores, deconstruct, and then reconstruct them. He was not simply collecting second-hand clothes and reselling them as couture, he and his team were using their fine-tuned tailoring skills and eye for design to recreate the pieces entirely. These pieces were also usually made of common fabrics, likely worn by the French working class. Some of his most signature details were the margiela shoulder and his artisanal tops, which were often made of recycled materials, like old paper advertisements, riding gloves, hats, or playing cards. Undoubtedly his most iconic piece, however, was the tabi boot. He was inspired to create the Tabi after visiting Tokyo and watching Japanese craftsmen work in their flat, cotton tabi shoes. He decided to make his out of leather and add a block heel. This style of shoe had never been created before. The 1980s were a time of short skirts, wide shoulders, and hourglass figures. In Margiela’s clothing, he focused on creating long, lean silhouettes with effective layering of fabrics and shapes. In the early 2000s, he began to experiment with draped, extremely oversized clothing. During his time as the creative director at Hermés, Martin faced criticism for the simplicity of his designs. Many did not understand that he was allowing high-quality materials to speak for themselves. Even though his designs for the house may have been regarded as simple, there was still an immense amount of thought that went into them.

After his first few shows, Martin’s impact was obvious and far-reaching. Other more mainstream fashion houses, like Chanel and Gucci, had begun to adopt elements of Margiela’s philosophy. His work and approach to fashion also began to inspire future designers, like Raf Simons. Simons was able to attend Margiela’s first show in October of 1988. He later said “I’m a teenager from the 1980s, so I was aware of how high fashion looks but it didn’t really trigger my interest. Then I saw the Martin show. It was very anti, very unglamorous to me, but at the same time it was very glamorous. I can remember very well stepping out of that show, thinking this is what I want to do, and now I can see fashion as something that has another meaning for myself.”

Martin officially left the house and the fashion world in December 2009, shortly after his 20th anniversary show. The name of the house was changed from Maison Martin Margiela to Maison Margiela. Today, John Galliano is the creative director of Maison Margiela and has been since 2014. Many were worried that having such an establishment name appointed as creative director would soil Margiela’s antifashion history and reputation. However, Galliano has proven that he plans to remain true to the original vision of Maison Margiela. After a ten year hiatus from anything public, Martin Margiela recently announced that he would be opening a contemporary art exhibit in Paris. He does not have any plans on returning to the fashion world, however. Martin embraced the imperfect and unfinished while still managing to create long, elegant silhouettes. His work expands the notion of “sustainable” fashion. It makes people rethink what sustainability really means. Everything he did was a part of his effort to democratize fashion.


my first poster sketches:

all my sketches together

i’m really intrigued by the ascii portrait of martin. i think because anonymity was and is so important to him, i’d really like to obscure the portrait aspect in some way. I also like the pixelate effect i used in the second to last one.

yoshi said he was really intrigued by the one where “tin” and “giela” emerge out from “mar”. i enjoy that one as well.

so far i think i’m doing a good job at using my own style while also reflecting martin’s style and philosophy, like embracing (calculated) imperfections, and making it more analog and a bit rough around the edges.

i like the idea of using the tabi print for the timeline. ricky said the tabi’s kind of look like people when oriented downwards. yoshi thought this could be interesting to explore.

going forward, i’d like to add more texture to my poster. maybe paper rips, scans of packing tape/plastic. i think for my first two actual posters, i’d like to combine aspects from a lot of my sketches to form something layered with more depth, just like martin’s work. :)


these were my 2 poster iterations for tuesday.

i enjoy the taupe color i made for the tabi prints as opposed to the bright red. margiela’s favorite colors to work with are black, white, and nude.

on the second, i enjoy margiela’s hand as portrait and the line created by the timeline.

i’m struggling a bit with where to place the quote, especially in the first one.

i didn’t have the time or energy to scan plastic or my own paper rips, but i’d like to do that for thursday.


on the wall + peer votes

langston and brett were leaning more towards the left. langston said left was more interesting to look at. i like the sketchbook/grimey aspect of the one on the left. brett suggested i experiment with type and margiela’s name more. he suggested trying to get rid of part of his name (i’d probably get rid of martin) and play with scale of letters in margiela. brett also said he liked the easter eggs scattered throughout my poster, like the bars on the G. i think i should include more elements like these.

right now i’m a bit torn between the two ideas but leaning more towards the left. going forward, i’d like to add more textures and maybe step back a bit to experiment more before finals next tuesday.


this is what i have for thursday.

i’ve played a lot with the scale and direction of “margiela” and i also got rid of martin. brett came in and told me to get rid of the pixelated portrait of martin and let the informational paragraph take up more space. he also reminded me to be wary of tangents and to try overlapping the type with the images more/make them interact more. he said if i go with the distressed text that i shouldn’t do the bars on the G. I liked the bars though and i wasn't crazy about the distressed text so i went with the bars and added them to another letter to make it more clear aspect of the poster, playing into martin’s idea of deconstruction in his work. brett also said the tabi prints were starting to look like animal prints, so i played with the scale of those and i also make the edge look more distressed.

i enjoy how i combined elements of the second poster into this one, like adding the three models from different season that also feature the same dress form in different ways. i feel like these three looks really exemplify martin’s ideas on sustainability and re-use. also the use of the dress form brings into question the relationship between women and their clothes. i’m also really happy with the way i played with the informational paragraph. it was definitely a risk but i think it looks intentionally bad.

i also added the plastic texture in the back and tape onto some of the models and photos. i like it. i think this helps contribute to the grungy, scrapbook-y feel i’m going for.


my poster + notes from peers

todays crit went well, i’m feeling good about my poster. brett said it looks like its from another world but in a good way (?) he suggested breaking up the plastic texture in the back. i’m not sure exactly what he means by this but will do some experimenting. he also suggested bringing up the portrait so that it goes under the G more. i will try this. yoshi suggested putting information into the portrait. this is something i’ve thought about but havent tried because i’m afraid changing the letters too much will affect the translation of the face, but i am still willing to try it. yoshi also suggested using a typeface other than courier but idk i’m pretty happy with courier so far.

final poster:



Hannah Lesser
Martin Margiela

design, social and political history at carnegie mellon university