Sabrina, an Italian studying in London, was awestruck at the possibility of meeting Martin Margiela, the Paris-based Belgian designer. 'Do you know if he's going to be here?' she asked. She is one of his reverential followers - a Margiela fanatic.

Wednesday night was the first time Sabrina was able to come to a Margiela show. She and her friend Mauro (also wearing Margiela) joined the huddle of Margiela fans journalists, photographers, fashion stylists and puzzled onlookers outside the Joseph shop in London's Brompton Cross. 'We hope he might be here,' said Mauro, as he showed me his detachable shirt sleeves, a Margiela trade mark. But Martin (pronounced Mar-tan by those who know) did not appear.

The show was an extraordinary fashion happening, the first of its kind. Margiela's autumn/winter '94 collection was not shown in Paris last spring, like those of other designers; instead, Margiela presented it in the same week that it went into the shops. At 7pm on 7 September in six different cities around the world, there were showings of the same 12 outfits, worn by women living in each city. There were four shows in Paris, and others in New York, Tokyo, Milan, Bonn and London. Nobody, however, knew where Margiela was because, as always, he insisted that the clothes and those who wear them are more important than he is.

'The idea is to get closer to the clients in the shop, and the women who wear the clothes,' said Patrick Scallon of Margiela. 'Fashion shows have always been by professionals, for professionals, and Martin wanted to widen the access geographically and physically. He also needed new energy: he hoped it might come from the people who wear his clothes.'

Of the 12 women chosen to wear the outfits in London, Aniamaka is a skinny 24-year-old who is studying art. She was spotted walking down Ladbroke Grove and chosen by Margiela after he saw a Polaroid photograph of her. Gym, a 45-year-old acquaintance of a friend of a friend of Margiela's, was another of the 12.

'I'm not a follower of fashion,' said Gym, who had never worn Margiela before. 'At first I thought the clothes might be unflattering. But I love them. I feel like a Barbie doll.' That might have had something to do with her 'Ken jacket', an enlarged version of a jacket worn by Barbie's boyfriend.

Make-up for the models was minimal so as not to impose a look on any of them. 'Do you want eyebrows?' the make-up artist asked Julia, who has a shaven head and plucked eyebrows. Julia usually does 'boring work in a bar'. Her outfit was a model's work coat, under which she wore heavy-knit leggings and cloven shoes, a Margiela signature. Around her neck hung a pendant with a long lock of hair.

At the appointed time, the crowd gathered, looking expectantly at the white, paper-covered windows of the Joseph shop. A group of drummers played in front of one of them. And then the paper was torn away to reveal the women and the clothes. Margiela, it was rumoured, was in New York.

Martin Margiela designs are available at Joseph, 77 Fulham Road, London SW3, and Browns, 23-27 South Molton Street, London W1.

(Photograph omitted)

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