Skip to main content

Martin Margiela Is Physically Absent from His New Documentary ‘The Artist is Absent’

There's no sign of John Galliano, either.

Yoox has more going on than its recent merger with Net-a-Porter.  On Saturday at the Tribeca Film Festival, the luxury group debuted its first foray into documentary production with a 12-minute glimpse at elusive designer Martin Margiela. And similar to the recently-released Raf Simons doc "Dior and I," the short film entirely avoids the subject of John Galliano, current creative director of the brand, whose founder left around six years ago. (Granted, the film was likely shot before Galliano's appointment was official, since TFF's deadline for submission is November 26, while the Galliano announcement was made October 6.)

Margiela, the man, is very much the film's focus, despite his physical absence from it. Directed by Alison Chernick, "The Artist is Absent" amounts to a condensed deep dive into the designer, through the lenses of those who had been around him, without actually showing the couturier himself -- though he did participate in the film's creation. Talking head slots go to Suzy Menkes, Raf Simons and Jean Paul Gaultier amongst others, who describe this ‘Greta Garbo of fashion' as a true artist that simply stopped designing when he had said all he needed to say.

After the screening, we chatted with Chernick about working with Margiela himself, the footage that didn’t make it into the film and the importance of Maison Margiela’s head of communications in its creation. A short version of the film is available today on, and, with the full version set to debut April 27.

What made you want to do the film?

Aside from loving his clothes, Margiela has been such a mystery man to the fashion world. I wanted to explore, demystify and unravel that. When I found out that there was no footage I was sold completely by that challenge. I’m totally about trying to figure out how to work around an obstacle. Otherwise, things are too easy.

So did you have any preconceived notions going in?

You don’t really know your story until you get into the edit room. There’s a quote that says, it’s like asking an infant what they are going to be when they grow up. You go to make this film and you have big ideas for it but it’s not until you sit down with the materials and figure out your structure in the edit room, that’s when you know what your film is about.

Speaking of editing, were there any scenes that got left on the cutting room floor that really stand out to you?

There was great footage of a young Martin with Jean Paul Gaultier that I was eager to use. The problem was we were really navigating some privacy issues and also structurally; the film is called ‘The Artist is Absent,’ so as much as I wanted to stick in this great shot of him, I had to respect the film structure.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

So going through all of those archives and seeing everything, what was the biggest thing that you took away from his work?

I really just realized how much fun all of these guys were having in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. It was a real collaboration and they were breaking ground! It was electric energy.

So would you have categorized Martin as a part of the Antwerp Six as the seventh member?

No! He’s definitely not a part of the Antwerp Six, he’d graduated from the Royal Academy with those guys but he is not a part of that group. He just wanted to go off on his own and they were happy to be a part of a group with one another. He left and went to Paris and started to work with Gaultier.

So I know that Martin helped to compose the list of possible interviewees. How did you narrow down exactly who you spoke to for the film?

Well I did a lot of research and [exchanged] emails with Martin and his list was about five people who he respected and thought that they spoke well of him but it wasn’t necessarily various voices. For me, I really had to be diverse with who I was choosing. I needed everyone to have a lot of insight into him because we couldn’t do 30 interviews -- nor did we want to. Because of that I really need to stay within the inner circle.

Patrick Scallon was a great help! He was the head of communications for 17 years and he really became the voice of Margiela, so he sort of broke down all the politics for me and gave a lot of background. From there, we probably interviewed about 10 people and then in the film ended up using about half that.

Would you say that Patrick’s interview resonated with you the most or was there someone else?

I loved all my subjects. I thought each one of them brought something different and fresh to the table in terms of his story. I was very fortunate in that way. Olivier Saillard, fashion historian, I could have literally used every bite that he said but at a certain point we had to stick to our story and not go off on tangents. But they really all were amazing.

I know prior to this most of your subjects have been artists, and you even approached Margiela as an artist here, but has this project peaked any interest in doing more fashion-related films?

No, not so much. I’m working in fiction right now, which is great, but I’ve never been a fashion person. I’m totally more of an art person, as you said. Martin is a true artist so he worked for me in terms of bridging the two.