Ready to Wear: Martin Margiela is the ultimate designer's designer

This week sees the opening of London's first major retrospective of the work of that all-round fashion God and international man of mystery, Martin Margiela.

It seems only apposite, given the designer's willfully elusive nature, that said show takes place a good six months after he parted company with the label he founded. And that's just the official line. Insiders argue that he stepped down quite some time before that. Renzo Rosso, owner of Diesel, bought the business in 2002 and the culture clash between the shy and retiring Belgian and the rather more flamboyant Italian was always likely to prove challenging at the very least.

Given that Margiela – the ultimate designer's designer, cited by everyone from Marc Jacobs to Alexander McQueen as a major influence – refused ever to give face-to-face interviews or be photographed even when he did head up his brand, it's safe to say that his thinking on the matter, like so many other things, will never be known. Suspending his ego to a point that is unprecedented, he did always claim that his quiet – though immensely innovative – output was the result of team work. Those who inhabit this universe are dressed in an anonymous uniform of white chemises to drive that message home. However, as much as it would be optimistic to say that without him it's business as usual, that has not been to be the case. His team must be commended for any effort but, without Martin Margiela, Maison Martin Margiela, as it is known, is not the same.

Thankfully, then, those wishing to study his brilliant re-workings of the classic tailored jacket, cloven-toed "tabi" boots, dresses crafted out of humble lining fabric, all of which demonstrate a low-fi and gently anarchic view of fashion that is the antithesis of the status-driven ephemera that all too often prevails, now have the chance to do so. Originally curated by the Mode Museum, Antwerp – Margiela is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in that city – the show also takes in the deliberately understated branding, the white-washed store designs, photography, video and installations, all of which goes quite some way towards defining the philosophy of this marvellous man.

Maison Martin Margiela "20": The Exhibition runs 3 June - 5 Sept at Somerset House, WC2. Tickets £6; somersethouse.org.uk

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