As a dedicated follower of fashion it’s no surprise that Martin Margiela is one of my heroes. Sigh. He is known for pushing the fashion envelope time and time again. In turn, he started trend after trend. Cut up denim, Margiela. Bizarre show locations, Margiela. Recycling, Margiela. Tabi Shoes, Margiela. And, possibly the most influential, the oversized look. Yes, also Margiela.
I was fortunate enough to see a retrospective of his work last year and I was surprised by two things. The first was how well his collection has held up; almost anything of his from the 90’s is wearable today. The second was that he never seemed to rest in convention; he saw no laws of fashion that must be obeyed. His work was not restricted or bounded by what was right.
It occurred to me that, while I love his clothes now, I didn’t love a lot of his work at the time. He pushed his work to the point of offense. From what I can tell, he did this intentionally.
An article on his retrospective in Vogue commented on this, saying “The designer—so often ridiculed by mainstream press at the time—is now acknowledged as something close to a deity of fashion.”
I had a similar reaction when I saw the work of artist Matthew Barney for the first time at the Guggenheim. His work offended me to the point I felt physically ill. It was ugly, confronting and completely weird. I saw that show twice. It’s one of the most memorable art shows I have ever seen.
Matthew Barney’s show taught me that a visceral reaction, good or bad, is superior to liking something. A negative response can be as influential as a positive response. That I should never dismiss something purely because it offends me.
Instant reactions are reactions based on our past experiences; psychologists call it “chunking”. We assess things through a lens of familiarity. And accordingly, we limit our exposure to new things and new ideas.
We can also limit ourselves and our potential. If our goal is to have our work accepted, what do we end up leaving on the cutting room floor? I recently read something along the lines that you cannot avoid offending someone in today’s world. If you put your work out to the masses then some troll will feel the need to criticise you. And some will be nasty about it. In fact, no, I didn’t read it, it was an interview between Brene Brown and Oprah Winfrey. And Oprah quipped “what other people think about me is none of my business”. I love that.
Limiting yourself to make other people comfortable is a losing game. Most of the best ideas started off as terrible ideas: no one will use a camera in their phone; who is going to buy books online; why would anyone want to broadcast messages to an online community? Yeah, the iPhone, Amazon and Facebook got it so wrong.
So I say, let your vision need to be as big as it needs to be. Maybe dare to be wrong?