As the Eurostar flew across the Belgian countryside, guests wondered where the journey, initiated by Hermès, and starting in Paris, would end. The surprise stop was the city of Antwerp. Notably, the home of the original Antwerp Six, the group of pioneering designers who graduated from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, including one of fashion’s most innovative visionaries, Martin Margiela. This was a voyage that would recall Margiela’s indelible imprint on the luxury house during his tenure as creative director of womenswear from 1997 to 2003.
A quick tram ride brought guests to the St-Felix Pakhuis – a monumental waterfront warehouse constructed in 1863. Climbing up steep staircases and traversing winding hallways with blacked-out windows, journalists took their seats to observe a performance choreographed by Studio Olivier Saillard. Original Hermès models from the 1997-2003 shows, dressed in monochrome tights and leotards, performed a veritable fashion show traversing time and memory. With each gesture and word, they invited guests to use their imaginations to meditate on Hermès’ theme for the 2017 year: Le sens de l’objet (the meaning of an object).
Following models’ long, slender fingers and calm voices that stitched together clothes with words, one recalled looks from Hermès shows under the creative direction of Martin Margiela. Roomy tunics, oversized jackets, and transformative vests rolled up and slung over the shoulder were just a few of the pieces contemplated throughout the unconventional “show.”
Following the performance that left guests in a trance-like state, journalists were led to an outdoor sun-drenched hall to sit at a long table under a string of chandeliers. Music by jazz band Klezmicnoiz erupted as chef Seppe Nobels offered dishes with local produce and fresh fish. Hermès’ artistic director, Pierre-Alexis Dumas, delivered a moving speech that recalled the genius of Martin Margiela that still permeates fashion today. Afterwards, a stroll through the city led guests to visit the MoMu Museum for a tour of Margiela, The Hermès Years exhibition designed by Bob Verhelst in collaboration with Martin Margiela himself.
Here, visitors were dumbfounded to come across garments younger generations will mistakenly think unique to their era: perfecto jackets and long sleeves covering hands, casual sneakers paired with suits, and oversized puffer jackets. Vogue International Editor, Suzy Menkes, had commented just prior to its opening, “And the fact that Margiela’s influence is a powerful component today at the Vetements brand and its attitude makes this upcoming exhibition especially relevant.” The ideas originally conceived by Martin Margiela during his tenure at Hermès initially shocked the fashion world, and yet, for 12 consecutive collections, as creative director of Hermès womenswear, Margiela offered his à propos view of the Hermès woman’s style: understated, tactile, timeless, comfortable. His was an orchestra of impeccably tailored looks that are relevant today.
Hermès offered a sensorial journey across countries and generations for a reflection of the notion of the meaning of an object. Its ultimate sense? To bring us together in comfort, conversation, retrospection, movement, and leave us with a sense of perpetual renewal.
Margiela, the Hermès Years, until August 28 at the MoMu, Antwerp, Belgium