Working in Maison Martin Margiela must be a fairytale. Of course, Maison Martin Margiela being Maison Martin Margiela, it wouldn't be any standard 'fashion' fairytale - Cinderella, or Sleeping Beauty say. Margiela is a bit more Goldilocks and the Three Bears, certainly when it comes to press reception of their post-Martin wares: no prizes for guessing which side of that equation should be perceived as the gruff trio of hardworking mammals, and which the fickle blonde who breezes in and dashes your hard-work to smithereens with a few contrary snipes. For Maison Martin Margiela it seems one collection is too conceptual (Spring/Summer 2011's steamroller-chic, anyone?), the next not conceptual enough (Autumn/Winter's slow-moving dresses). The question on everyone's mind is when will Margiela once again hit the formula that's just right.
Spring/Summer 2012 came pretty close to perfect. What we saw this time were ideas, ideas that found their ancestors in the Margiela archives but still had their own distinct character. Spontenaity was the main theme - the spontaneity of throwing a bolt of fabric across a mannequin and catching it where it hangs, for example - hence the bolts of satin entwined with bra-straps, or billowing raw-edged cloth turned into a fluttering cape. It extended to the jewellery too, if you could call it that. A single magnolia leaf was curled and dried around a finger as a representation of adornment. That was clever.
Cleverness was something that's been missing from Margiela collections, and something that was always furiously, wickedly evident before. It resurfaced today, and not without a touch of wry humour. The plastic garment-bags that emerged as outerwear in their own right, for example. Part of these tapped into next season's feel for transparency and plastic-fantastic veiling, while somewhere we were reminded of suburban sofas sheathed in protective PVC, not least when they veiled sequinned dresses patterned like Persian rugs. The genius touch? The Margiela white label stitched in the back.
Those were one idea that leapt out amongst many: indeed, if there's a churlish, Goldilocks criticism to be had of this collection, it was that it tried to do too many things at once. There were sections obsessed with zipping apart dressmaker's dummy torsos, or shrinking larger garments to fit a smaller body with latex-coated knit or mens' tailoring scarred with giant external darts, folding and pleating massive jackets and oxford bag trousers against the models' forms. They were another witty idea, but it felt like they could have been a collection by themselves (and would have left more room for those fantastic 'garment bag' garments, which deserve to be a tongue-in-cheek conceptual/commercial hit). Still, when the worst comment you can make about a fashion show is that it offered too many ideas, you know you're onto a winner.