ConTesting Objects Part 1: H&M x Maison Martin Margiela Re-Edition February 26 2014

Over the holidays I caught a glance of a dress worn under the coat of my sister in law, the singer/performer Queen Esther.  It was a dress with a printed image of an evening gown covered with cheap plastic sequins.  The garment itself has a high-cropped neck line.  In contrast, the printed gown has a conventional silhouette – cleavage baring front and exposed back. 

As it turned out, it was one of the designs by Maison Martin Margiela for the “fast-fashion” brand H&M.  Released in November 2012, the dress was not the most beautiful piece among the H&M x Margiela collection.  In my view, however, it was the most interesting piece, and its intellectual value increased by the fact that it was the cheapest piece – both literally and metaphorically speaking.

My first thought was: H&M and Maison Martin Margiela????  The two represented the opposite ends on the fashion spectrum. Why on earth would Margiela accept the offer from H&M and betray the integrity that Maison Martin Margiela worked by for the last 20+ years?  There was a horrible disappointment in my mind: money does talk louder.

Immediately following that thought, I realized something: that this design was totally clever, enlightening and more importantly, in line with Margiela.  The dress is, OF COURSE, a contesting piece – it is a way for Margiela to stick his middle finger up at H&M as if he was saying “You want fast fashion?  I will give you a piece of fast fashion you have to manufacture by putting an image of something mundane, consumable and disposable on the garment.”  The thought about “contesting object” ignited something in me as I had finally found the right word for one of the key inspirations of my own work.  (more to this in another post later)  So I immediately searched and purchased the dress in my size on e-Bay.

Upon further research, I realized I was wrong.  The dress was not “designed” for H&M per se.  It is a “re-edition” of Maison Martin Margiela’s 1996 Trompe l'oeil evening dress.  In addition, Maison Martin Margiela was acquired by the Diesel Group in 2002 and Margiela left the fashion house which bears his name in 2009.  So in fact, Maison Martin Margiela has been moving closer toward H&M on the fashion spectrum and money does talk louder.

So I am left with a copy of a copy of the 1996 Trompe L'oeil Evening Dress.  One could argue that the material and the image are not the same as the 1996’s version but the concept is the same.  Plus, 1996 is among those years that Margiela still deeply involved in the creation of everything came out of his fashion house.  So the copy I got is arguably the grandchild of Margiela’s baby.  But does this really matter if everyone agrees that the Trompe L'oeil Evening Dress was originated to contest what was prevalent and commonly expected/celebrated by the society: ie the plastic-sequinsed dress and the common notion of sexiness and glamor?  What do you think?

Well, I have to say I have gained tremendously from obsessively contemplating the Trompe L'oeil Evening Dress.  I now have a physical reminder of how amazingly Maison Martin Margeila has inspired the fashion world, and I have found the term “contesting object” to describe some of my own work.  Reading this article Fashion’s Invisible Man in the New York Times allowed me to peek into Mr. Margiela’s character and be inspired.  There is also a short and sweet retrospective blog post MM6 x OC: A Walk Down Margiela Memory Lane by the store/brand Opening Ceremony.  Check it out.

I have to say there is a moment when I read Fashion’s Invisible Man I almost decided to scrap this post and other future posts I have planned – perhaps I should just shut up.  But I am glad I didn’t remain silent and am happy to be writing this post to serve as the ribbon cutting ceremony of my online store.  More ConTesting Objects to come….

cover photo of this post: For Maison Martin Margiela's S/S 1999 show, the models were sent out wearing sandwich boards printed with an image of each garment, instead of wearing the actual clothes. Photo by Niall McInerney, source: