Bringing Anonymity Back
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Stockholm, Sweden - Swedish clothing giant H&M adds another iconic fashion brand to its portfolio of designer collaborations, Maison Martin Margiela. Often labeled an avant-garde antibrand, MMM has been one of fashion’s strongest driving forces in the past two decades. The highly conceptual brand has maintained its intellectual leadership in the fashion industry, even years after the founding designer of the namesake brand has abandoned the creative direction of the company and lives invisibly out of the fashion world.

MMM shrouds not only its collections but all aspects of its business under the identity myth of Anonymity. The stores have no signage and are not listed in phone books. The packaging is logo-free, as is the clothing. The models often appear on the runway with covered faces. And most importantly, the elusive founder has never stepped out on the runway after a show, never given an interview and never been photographed.

Maison Martin Margiela has earned the antibrand label for positioning itself as creative counterculture. Not only for pushing the boundaries of fashion with intellectual challenges that have time and time again generated a trickle-down effect of styles and ideas that are later absorbed by the mainstream, but for placing the voice of the brand in opposition to fashion celebrity culture.

In the mid 90’s, Tom Ford stepped out on the Gucci runway after a show, infringing a contract which didn’t allow him to be the public face of the company or even speak to the press, but saving the company from bankruptcy and strengthening the figure of the creative director in the fashion industry. On the other hand, Martin Margiela, while still designing for his eponymous label, decided to retire completely from public view and consequently build a fashion maison that didn’t rely on the figure of a creative director, but on a team of anonymous talent.
The role of creative director at a fashion house has become a fundamental element of its brand strategy, as he/she incarnates the spirit of the brand. The CD is perceived by consumers, critics and colleagues as the mastermind that validates the company’s aesthetics by affecting collective perceptions of the brand and locating it in the right sociocultural context. Name changes, perhaps the most controversial of all branding issues, exemplify the significance of this matter.

Major fashion houses have dropped the first name of the founder in attempts to build strong brands that can reinvent themselves season after season, creative director after creative director. Yves Saint Laurent is the latest example of this rebranding strategy, which has been controversial indeed, mainly because the company, now under the creative direction of Hedi Slimane may even leave behind the ‘YSL’ trademark.

This couldn’t be a better moment for MMM to collaborate with H&M, precisely because the company has been branding itself as a team and not as a persona. The H&M collaboration presents the brand to the masses and liberates its creative responsibility from the ghost of Martin Margiela. Through these collaborations, H&M has become in less than a decade a vehicle that legitimizes fashion actors globally by (re)introducing them to larger audiences and younger consumers, proving that the retail giant not only understands the language of fashion, but that it plays a major role as a gatekeeper of the cultural industries.

Text by: David Licona
Photo by: Heidi Farrell
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