Like Martin Margiela, the designer of the line, Meirens was a figure of mystery who rarely consented to be photographed or interviewed. That’s why I was fascinated by a long interview she did with Susannah Frankel in the New York Times Magazine in February.
Meirens covered her whole history with Margiela, including their meeting in 1983 (she was judging a fashion contest he entered) and their 1988 creation of the famously blank white Maison Martin Margiela label (in a little bar in Italy). Meirens handled the business side of the Margiela line until she retired in 2003. Think of what a challenge it was to promote anti-glamour, frayed clothing including “a woman’s jacket scaled up to an Italian men’s size 60” worn with split-toe tabi boots and coats made out of Christmas tinsel, shown on models wearing masks. But Meirens did it. In fact, she sounds like a fashion designer’s dream partner.
“We were totally financially and creatively independent,” Meirens told Frankel. “We never had any money but we were never in debt. There was just enough to go on. … Of course it was all about being free.”
It’s a reminder that a creative person needs a business partner with passion. Other designers who have had that kind of relationship include Marc Jacobs with Robert Duffy, and Yves Saint Laurent with Pierre Bergé. In contrast, when an investor has pipe-dreams of huge profits but no love for the line, a golden-goose situation is all too common: The business side pushes the namesake designer out and ends up with nothing of value at all. Meanwhile, Meirens, who cared deeply about the Margiela line, scored Martin Margiela a job as creative director of Hermès. That gig lasted six years, produced beautiful clothes, and funded Margiela’s own work instead of undermining it.
If you don’t know much about Margiela — or if you do! — the interview is a fun read for anecdotes about mischief made at the runway shows, which extended to the invitations:
“For its fall 1989 show, Meirens placed a classified ad including the time, date and address of the show in a free newspaper. Once published, the Margiela team picked up hundreds of copies, ringed the relevant text in red and mailed it out. ‘It was the cheapest invitation ever,’ Meirens says.”
There’s a another great story about Martin whipping up a gift. Even the way the business sent its mail is mind-boggling. The interview gives such a thorough account of the Margiela experience and aesthetic that I keep wondering if Meirens’s timing was deliberate. Did she finally talk about her work because she felt the end was near? Whether or not that was the case, I’m glad she decided to share her story.
Oh, and the first photo — of the enigmatic Margiela and Meirens together — is hilariously apt. You have to see it to believe it.