Martin Margiela | Upcycling Since the 1990s

What is upcycling that we are currently rediscovering and how it started by fashion virtuoso Margiela in the 1990s.


Upcycling refers to creative reuse. It is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials or products that we no longer use into new materials that we can classify as having a higher quality, artistic value or environmental value.

There are fashion brands that have already created collections based on this concept and used an environmentally friendly strategy. To do so, they use materials such as plastics or clothes that have been discarded by consumers or that have gone out of fashion. Sustainability in any company is fundamental, not only for marketing purposes but also to maintain high standards of corporate social responsibility.

Origin of upcycling in haute couture

In the garment industry, haute couture fashion has also exponentially developed its immersion in this concept of recycled garments. We must go back to the nineties of the twentieth century to find one of the pioneers of this way of creating. We are referring to Martin Margiela, Belgian designer and founder of the French fashion house Maison Margiela. It was he who applied upcycling at that time by linking old and used clothes with modern ideas.

Martin Margiela is considered one of the most extraordinary couturiers of his generation. New York Magazine said of his radical and exploratory designs that it was as if “Marcel Duchamp were reincarnated as a fashion designer”, and he is widely regarded as having reset the rules of fashion, ushering a new era of style as the world moved into a postmodern phase during the 1990s.

On top of his ability comes his mystique: he has never given an interview, remains backstage during his shows, and even his brand is a discreet white label.

The radical approach adopted by Margiela involved investigating the construction of garments by deconstructing them. 

He questions garment obsolescence with his Artisanal collection created from vintage clothing and found objects transformed by the designer into unique, hand-stitched pieces. He would reveal the reverse of the fabric and its lining and push size to its extremes, from 200% oversized pieces to dolls’ clothing adapted to human size. He printed trompe-l'oeil dresses, knitwear and coats. He even painted his pieces. 

Founded in 1988 by Martin Margiela and Jenny Meirens, the fashion house protects the designer’s very real desire for anonymity, preferring to highlight its teamwork and garments, rather than promoting the star status of its designer.

The unique character of this couturier has set him fundamentally apart from the norm in the microcosm that is the designer fashion world.

His work was celebrated in three major exhibitions hosted in 2008 and 2018: the first one was for Maison Margiela’s 20th anniversary at the ModeMuseum in Antwerp, and two others, 2018, Margiela, les années Hermès at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and Margiela / Galliera 1989-2009 at the Palais Galliera.