In Conversation with Reiner Holzemer

Reiner Holzener, director of Martin Margiela: In His Own Words, examines the designer’s lasting influence as the latest immersive exhibit centred around the documentary opens this winter at The Shophouse, Hong Kong.

When did you discover Margiela’s work?

The first time I saw his garments was in 2017, the Hermès exhibition in Antwerp; that was the moment he caught my interest. I was really excited by the timelessness and elegance, I couldn't forget it anymore, I was so curious!


Why did he agree to make the film?

He thought this was a once in a lifetime chance and it wouldn't happen again. After the success of the exhibition, he thought it would be nice moment to make the film just for the memory. Time has healed his wounds. This was more than 10 years ago, so he really digested the negative aspects of the fashion industry, and he was ready to take a look at his work again.


What was collaboration like?

It was complicated - he's a perfectionist and likes to be in control. As a director, I’m not used to these discussions. Martin is interested in every creative expression, from filming and post-production to graphic design. He wants to learn and find out more. He has his own ideas and vision.


Was it easy to work with someone so private?

Yes - he wants people to focus on his work more than his character. He loves privacy. He was a shy and lonely kid, he told me this, and that his shyness was an issue because as a designer, you have to go public at least with your collections. It wouldn't make sense if he did them just for himself. He has friends, of course, but he feels very comfortable with himself.


What was your favourite aspect of the film?

We used so many childhood references throughout the movie. I thought it was extraordinary that he knew at the age of 7 that he wanted to become a fashion designer, and I love the story of the boy sitting in front of the TV watching this Courrèges story and thinking ‘what is this?’ and then saying to his mum, “this is what I want to be” - a fashion designer in Paris. He became what he dreamed of as a child and it’s a wonderful story. His mother kept all the childhood drawings, books, Barbies and that was the moment we decided to put it in the movie. This is my favourite part of the film.


What was the most important filming decision?

That we didn't show his face; it’s part of the honesty and intimacy of the movie, it fits with his work and career. It’d be disappointing for his fans if we destroyed that whole anonymous image.


What was his studio like; working in the universe of Margiela?

It was very familiar from the first moment. He still paints everything in white so it felt like being back in his working days. Some things never change. He loves that style and still finds second-hand pieces and paints them white. The things that other people throw away, he finds new useful ideas for. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.


Do you think he regrets leaving the fashion industry?

No, he’s very happy that he left the fashion industry and how he lives now. He loved it, he really loved it, especially the creative part of it, but I think the pace and pressure of the industry was too much for him. It was toxic.


Why did you think people are still obsessed with his work?

We have to rethink our actions. Look at the fashion world, we cannot go on like this for the rest of our lives. Part of the appeal of Martin is the strength of his creativity with limited resources. He would rather work out of poverty than creating things just for luxury or money.


What are his hopes for the future of fashion?

Creative ideas, originality, people who dare to do something that has never been done before. I can imagine it would make him very happy to see young designers follow their dreams and take risks.

Read more on Martin Margiela here.