Akin to Marc Jacobs who debuted at the same time for Louis Vuitton in 1998, Martin Margiela’s hiring to design Hermès’s ready-to-wear was an eyebrow raiser for many. The conceptually leaning Belgian designer was as far removed as one could be from the conservative culture of such a storied luxury house, all the better to design it. What is revealed in the late Jean-Louis Dumas’s decision to hire Margiela is the house’s advanced and intricate understanding of luxury and the need to readdress its meaning in today’s world. Margiela’s ideas, much like the work for his own label at the time, preached a luxury rooted in discretion and a private, personal pleasure. Hermès under Margiela would be the foil to Marc Jacobs’s ultimately spectacular and market saturated Louis Vuitton. Certainly it showed that the Hermès woman was a thinker and not merely a consumer.
In 2001, Cathy Hoyrn characterized the meat of Marigela’s efforts for Hermes as a “cashmere wrap coat or shapeless jumper for the antifashion rich” that even “Ms. Sander herself would respect,” said among rumors at the time that Jil Sander was going to to take over design duties. Margiela would exit Hermes in 2004, passing on the reigns to Jean Paul Gaultier who brought to it the theatrics befitting a global luxury brand, a very different direction but one just as suited to the times. And now, after a worldwide recession, amid an emerging global culture, in the face of contemporary fashion’s isntantaneous dissemination and waning mystique, the house reorients itself yet again.