F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous adage, «there are no second acts in American public life,» is often heeded as a cautionary note for fashion designers contemplating a career shift. However, Martin Margiela, one of fashion’s most unconventional designers, defies this maxim by embarking on a creative journey that extends beyond fashion. His latest artistic ventures are showcased in a captivating exhibition at Lafayette Anticipations, an innovative art center nestled in Paris’ Marais district, established by the renowned department store chain.

The transition from fashion designer to artist is a formidable one, as exemplified by Helmut Lang, who achieved global acclaim for his fashion collections in the late ’90s but encountered criticism when he transitioned to fine art in 2005.

Margiela, however, appears to be forging a distinct path, partly because the Belgian designer was as much a conceptual artist as a fashion designer during his two-decade career. His current exhibition delves into themes that have long fascinated him, echoing his fashion career: the allure of celebrity culture, the enigma of anonymity, the ephemeral nature of consumerism, the exploration of homoeroticism, and the profound value of secrecy. The concept of secrecy, in particular, remains pivotal for Margiela, who has steadfastly preserved his anonymity by never allowing himself to be photographed for a portrait, preserving an aura of intrigue.

Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel, director of Lafayette Anticipations, emphasizes, «One thing I made clear to Martin when he spoke about transitioning to an artist after his fashion career was that I always considered him an artist, even during his tenure in fashion.»

Rather than presenting a retrospective, the exhibition features experimental artworks, many of which were created in the basement of Lafayette Anticipations. These artworks were prepared nearly two years ago but experienced delays due to the pandemic.

Guillaume Houzé, the visionary behind Lafayette Anticipations, underscores the significance of providing contemporary artists like Margiela with the freedom to create at their own pace.

In this exhibition, Margiela, now 64, explores various facets of hair, a nod to his familial roots—his brother is a hairdresser. The exhibition encompasses 20 partitioned rooms spread across two floors, commencing with «Hair Portraits,» which features stacks of magazines adorned with mock glossy covers showcasing celebrities with their faces shrouded in hair.

Another striking installation, «Vanitas,» presents an abstract portrait of a woman in five stages of life, represented through wigs crafted from silicone and authentic human hair, symbolizing the cyclical nature of existence.

Similar to how Margiela once transformed everyday items into fashion statements, he now transmutes ordinary urban objects into art. He recreates a bus shelter using plexiglass and faux fur, reimagining this mundane refuge from the elements. The entrance to the exhibition features a colossal photo of a deodorant stick, listing the raw materials that compose this art show.

Margiela’s enduring fascination with human and animal forms permeates his art. He deconstructs classical concepts of anatomy, displaying fragments of the human torso rendered in silicone or plaster, challenging conventional notions of divinity and heroism. One room showcases oversized red porcelain false nails.

In conclusion, while Martin Margiela may not emerge as the next Damien Hirst or Anselm Kiefer, he has navigated the transition from fashion to art without encountering the scathing criticism that befell some of his contemporaries.

The Martin Margiela exhibition at Lafayette Anticipations will run until January 2, 2022.

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