In the fashion world, the Belgian designer Martin Margiela is like a mythical creature. He’s like Big Foot, but if Big Foot were confirmed to be real and also happened to be a revered genius in his industry (whatever that might be).
Before Margiela abruptly stepped back from his label in 2008, after decades spent creating radically inventive clothes, he was exalted as one of the creative visionaries of his time. “Everyone is influenced by Comme des Garçons and by Martin Margiela,” Marc Jacobs once said. “Anybody who’s aware of what life is in a contemporary world is influenced by those designers.” Add to this visionary status that Margiela was rarely seen or heard from, and his mythos only grew to fill fashion’s capacious imagination.
On Oct. 11, the Belgian Fashion Awards awarded Margiela with its Jury Prize in honor of “his entire career and his obvious impact on the history of fashion, today’s collections, and more than likely the ones to come.” While he didn’t turn up to claim his award—Big Foot doesn’t make publicity appearances—he did break his long silence with a short letter in acceptance of the award.
Published by Dazed, the letter touched on more than Margiela’s gratitude for the prize. It also delved into some of the reasons he says he left fashion, calling out the mounting pressure created by the industry’s new speed and including his thoughts on the negative effects of social media:
A beautiful tribute to a period of hard work and dedication starting at early age and lasting for more than 30 years, until 2008—the very year I felt that I could not cope any more with the worldwide increasing pressure and the overgrowing demands of trade. I also regretted the overdose of information carried by social media, destroying the ‘thrill of wait’ and cancelling every effect of surprise, so fundamental for me.
Not everyone may agree with this view. Kids who grew up with social media and anxiously await clothing and sneaker drops they first learn about on Instagram arguably still feel that thrill. But there’s no doubt that social media has changed the way fashion operates.
Margiela added a positive note, too, pointing out that he’s happy “to notice again a growing interest for creativity in fashion, by some upcoming designers.” Many of these upcoming designers have more than likely taken influence from Margiela’s work. It’s evident, for instance, in the clothes designed by current industry leaders such as Demna Gvasalia and Virgil Abloh. You might even be wearing it yourself, if you happen to have the Hermès Double Tour band on your Apple Watch.
Today Margiela’s label lives on without him, now under the creative direction of John Galliano. One of his standout showings last year was inspired by, of all things, social media, and the layered personas we construct online.