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The Untold Story Behind Fashion House Maison Margiela

An evocative portrait of the reclusive designer.

A fledgling Toronto fashion startup has scored a coup in hosting the Canadian premiere of a documentary film about Belgium designer Martin Margiela and the disruptive fashion house he founded in Paris 30 years ago. We Margiela, by Netherlands-based Mint Film Office, debuts at the retro Fox Theatre, in Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood, on November 10.

The 2017 documentary presents an evocative portrait of the reclusive designer and pioneering couturier who was among the first to recycle clothes and use oversized proportions, to mention just two current trends he launched well ahead of his time. We Margiela features interviews with the people who have worked with him since he launched his fashion brand in 1988, including makeup artists, members of the brand’s marketing team, and most notably, Jenny Meirens, Margiela’s oft-overlooked business partner. Margiela, together with Meirens, quit the company that still bears his name in 2002 after it was acquired by the OTB Group. Margiela has not been seen in public since, and Meirens passed away last year on the eve of the film’s world premiere in Rotterdam. Today, the maison is essentially run as a collective, but with British designer John Galliano at the helm.

“It doesn’t immortalize Margiela or put him on a pedestal. It tells a realistic story about what it means to be an impactful fashion designer.”

The Canadian premiere of We Margiela marks the first movie presentation for Archival Toronto, an organization founded in 2017 to provide a platform for the city’s vintage fashion collecting community. The film’s only other North American screening took place earlier this year in April at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “It is such an amazing film,” says Archival Toronto’s 26-year-old co-founder Carl Chiang. “I can’t wait for more people to see it.”

A native of the Philippines who came to Canada two years ago to pursue a career in marketing, Chiang has no formal training in fashion. He is, however, an avid collector of 1990s-era Margiela and remains a fan to this day, which is how he convinced director Mena Laura Meijer to let him show the film in Canada. “As soon as I heard about it, I badly wanted see it so I contacted the film company and asked if there were plans to screen it here,” says Chiang. He was told that the film company was in negotiations with an unnamed Canadian film festival, but after nearly a year went by with no word on the matter, Chiang persisted. “I contacted the company again at which point I learned that the other Canadian film festival deal had fallen through. I asked, ‘Could I screen it myself?’ and they suddenly said, ‘Yes.’”

Archival Toronto announced the event on September 20 with an ad placed in the classifieds section of the Toronto Star, an homage to Margiela’s international reputation for deglamourized fashion. As of press time, tickets for We Margiela already were 50 per cent sold. Chiang and his fellow Archival Toronto co-founder Gloria Pham are now planning to add a second screening to keep up with demand. “I’ve seen many fashion documentaries,” says Chiang, “but this one stands apart. It doesn’t immortalize Margiela or put him on a pedestal. It tells a realistic story about what it means to be an impactful fashion designer in the context of the people who work with him and support him.”

Tickets are $14 (a limited number at $12 for students), and are available here.


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