Martin Margiela has been called the J. D. Salinger of the fashion world, and rightly so -- he refuses to be photographed and will only be interviewed by fax. He won't even put his name on his clothes, branding them instead with a blank label. Margiela is perhaps the most underexposed designer around. But, in another way, he's continually overexposed, as his collections routinely reveal the designer's techniques and interests in their very construction. Bearing visible stitches, exposed hems, tailor's markings, and external shoulder pads, his collections never fail to both shock and delight. Margiela was born in Belgium in 1957. Early in his career, he became part of the Antwerp Six, an important fashion group whose other members included Dries van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, and Walter Van Beirendonck. In 1984 he joined Jean-Paul Gaultier's design team, an experience that would profoundly shape his fashion sense. Leaving Gaultier in 1988, Margiela launched his own label, which soon became known for its stand-out, theme-oriented collections. His "Flat Collection" moved sleeves and armholes to the front, so garments would lie perfectly flat when not worn. His 1996 "Photoprint Collection" consisted of crepe garments printed with images of fur coats and heavy sweaters. Other collections have used broken dishes and bacterial mold; still others have featured no new designs, only favorite pieces from previous collections that have all been re-dyed gray. Margiela always puts on a show, using vacant lots and old subway cars as runways, and marionettes and hangers as models. In 1997, Margiela was hired to design the women's ready-to-wear line for Herme's. His first Herme's collection proved he could color inside the lines when required to; it was as horsy and conservative as Herme's could wish. With his own label, however, Margiela remains firmly planted in the avant-garde.

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