Why You'll Never See this Brilliant Designer's Face — & That's A Good Thing

If you hoped that the forthcoming documentary on Martin Margiela would reveal the notoriously camera-shy Belgian designer's face, you might be in for some disappointment. The trailer for The Artist is Absent has been revealed, and features designer Jean Paul Gaultier and journalist Suzy Menkes singing his praises — but, no glimpse of the man himself. But, that's just as well.

Directed by New York filmmaker Alison Chernick and produced by Yoox Group, the film's title is a telling inversion of the 2010 MoMA exhibition The Artist Is Present, in which artist Marina Abramović installed herself in a gallery for 10 hours a day. Whereas Abramović uses her presence to heighten tension around her work, and engage in dialog with her audience, the purposefully elusive Margiela sought no such communion. Nor did the anonymous collective of designers that followed Margiela when he resigned from his namesake label in 2009. Instead, they willfully foreground their work by refusing to appear alongside or give interviews about it — sort of a high-fashion version of the old British axiom, "Never explain, never complain."

Of course, as with Sia or Daft Punk, artists who try to opt out of the cult of personality often have it foisted on them, and there are many fans eager to puncture the brand's carefully maintained mystique: Witness the frequency with which the one known photo of Margiela is passed around on Tumblr, or the furor over Suzy Menkes' outing of Margiela's interim creative director Matthieu Blazy last summer.

Even the label's bringing on John Galliano as creative director last year was a characteristic move. Following his excommunication from the fashion world, the Galliano of today is humbler, quieter, more sober than in his '90s heyday — now more craftsman than designer-as-rock star. In many ways, the post-fall-from-grace Galliano, anonymized in his white lab coat, is a fitting successor to the egoless designers of Margiela, for whom brilliance, not personality, has always been the point.
The Artist is Absent will screen several times throughout the week as part of the Tribeca Film Festival, and will be available for viewing at Yoox.com on April 27.

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