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Avante-garde Belgian joins Establishment

The reclusive Belgian designer Martin Margiela was yesterday appointed design director of the luxury French company, Hermes. Rather than going for a name that will feature on tabloid front pages, Hermes have opted for the most avant-garde and experimental of designers, whose label inside his clothes does not even bear his signature. It is nothing but a rectangle of plain white cotton.

The fashion world was surprised yesterday by the strange marriage. Margiela, 40, refuses to play the fashion game: he won't be photographed and is always mysteriously in the shadows at shows and presentations of his own ready-to-wear collection. He is one of the few designers who has managed to remain resolutely underground since his first collection in 1989.

His shows are more like art "happenings", with venues including a circus tent and a Salvation Army warehouse. For one show, he put scarves over the models' heads so that they could not see where they were going and to make a point that the clothes were more important than the model wearing them.

The models, wearing one-armed jackets and wigs made from old fur (pictured above), recycled from flea markets, were ferried from show to show on a bus and were serenaded by a Belgian band that looked as though it had indeed been dressed by the Salvation Army.

What has really confounded critics is how Margiela's clothes square with the bourgeois, traditional image of Hermes. He is a man so obsessed with the way clothes are made that he likes to leave the seams and darts on the outside.

He assisted Jean Paul Gaultier between 1984 and 1987 before launching his own label.