The Artist is Absent: Martin Margiela

A first look at the brilliant new documentary on Martin Margiela, alongside an interview with director Alison Chernick

Martin Margiela is the most elusive figure in fashion. His work at his eponymous house, founded in 1989, is defined by his devotion to anonymity: both as a personal preference and as a creative theme, his legacy is immense and yet still shrouded in mystery. Today marks the launch of Alison Chernick's 12-minute documentary with YOOX, which traces Margiela's career and aesthetic through interviews with an assortment of industry figures. From former boss Jean Paul Gaultier to Vogue's Suzy Menkes, the film offers a brilliant insight into the history of a man who changed and obscured the face of fashion.

"It's pretty smart to be the Greta Garbo of fashion," explains Suzy Menkes in the film. "By not showing his identity, I think that Martin Margiela became more exciting." And part of this anonymity was initially borne of sheer practicality – former director of communications Patrick Scallon explains that, "Nine out of ten times, if there was a black line over the eyes in the lookbook it's because if it wasn't, we couldn't pay the rights for the models, we didn't have the money." Whatever the motivation, during a time of supermodels and high-octane runways, Martin Margiela offered an antidote that has become legendary and, through the words of his peers and colleages, Chernick manages to simultaneously respect his silence and enlighten an audience.

"Martin said what he needed to say," summates Raf Simons. And, even with the impressive roster of icons interviewed in the film, it is perhaps still the archive footage of collections that tell us the most about the man himself. We spoke to Chernick to find out about her experiences creating the film, accompanied by the full documentary.

Have you always been a fan of Margiela?
Yes, I've always been a fan of his clothing but it isn't until you dig deep in a documentary that all the richness is revealed. I'm even more impressed now that I've had an inside look.

What inspired you to make the documentary?
There was a gap in fashion documentaries omitting the most intriguing – which I realised was from the lack of footage but somehow I wanted to take on that challenge instead of run from it. His story is certainly more interesting than most regardless of who is telling it.

What did you learn about him while filming?
What an original thinker he was, how he provoked you with his clothes, a true maverick. The anti-designer.

Are there any parts of the film that were a surprise to you?
It surprised me to learn that his mother also enjoyed reconfiguring furniture and putting her own take on things. He grew up around this sort of creativity it sounds. It's deep rooted.

"I think silence and anonymity create mystery which create stories." - Alison Chernick

What were the challenges of filming?
A bit of the unknown – production comes before editing so when you are out there in the field you don't know exactly how it's all going to come together but you just use your instinct.

What do you think Margiela’s influence has been on fashion?
You still see today what he did 20-30 years ago. Right down to the frayed hems.

Why do you think he is such a celebrated icon despite remaining relatively anonymous?
I think silence and anonymity create mystery which create stories.

What is your favorite collection, or work of his?

The Artist is Absent is produced by YOOX Group.