Agent Undercover: Maison Margiela

The Underdog Behind the Original Pillow Bag

There are a number of possible contenders who are lauded and/or accused for the creation of the Pillow Bag trend we have been witnessing for nearly two years now. There’s the Chanel 19 by Karl Lagerfeld which, along with featuring delicate, puffy, smooshy leather, also taught us how to mix metals. Then there was the Bottega Veneta Pouch by Daniel Lee which didn’t have any metal at all. There was also the Marc Jacobs Pillow Bag which possibly is the primary reason behind the name of this trend (and the fact that models in the campaign actually appeared asleep atop the bags). But there is one bit of pillowy goodness that began its journey way before all the rest (Spring/Summer 2018 to be exact) and remains steadfastly committed to imitating a cushion (it’s meant to be used as one too!). It’s from a fashion house so secretive that it’s got a code name (or ten) for it, exactly like a secret agent. Inspired by avant-gardists like Rei Kawakubo (of Comme des Garçons) and in turn inspiring Marc Jacobs (of Marc Jacobs), this house was founded by a designer who prefers to remain even more anonymous than the brand itself. Yes, I’m talking about Maison Margiela, the (no-longer) brainchild of Martin Margiela whose Glam Slam bag looks exactly like a sofa-cushion gone rogue and stylish.

Actually having been designed with the intention of “dressing in haste”, something which I assume means in this context waking up and running off to work/the airport with your pillow where you can doze off again, the Glam Slam is actually a creation not of Martin Margiela’s but rather of John Galliano, whose recent comeback as the house’s Creative Director brought the brand into significant spotlight. The Glam Slam is also the brand’s first foray into influencer culture, already a favorite of both male and female celebrities like Luka Sabbat, Lil Uzi Vert and Erika Boldrin. And truly, this oversized clutch has got so much to like: the smooth tufted nappa lambskin leather, two available sizes (medium and large) that remain oversized but not overwhelming, internal zip pockets for your essentials, a detachable crossbody shoulder strap and a slew of gorgeous colors from nude, white, black and berry red to dazzling metallic silver and holographic editions.

Luka Sabbat

Simply looking at one of its latest contributions to the handbag world doesn’t do justice to the history of the Maison itself, its enigmatic founder, and the DNA of complete anonymity that it has maintained throughout the years. Hence, we must delve deeper into Martin Margiela’s past (or what’s known of it!).

Frequently mistaken as a member of avant-garde fashion’s Belgian royalty, the Antwerp 6, Margiela actually graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp two years prior to the famous group of designers. Always having dreamt of working for Jean Paul Gaultier, in his school days he obtained entrance to one of Gaultier’s shows with a fake pass. Margiela eventually did work with him for two years before launching his eponymous, Maison Martin Margiela label in 1989, to instant acclaim. Featuring scores of non-conformist styles, split-toed Tabi boots and deconstructed, reconstructed and recycled materials like rope, plastic, foil and lace, and having children cast by Anna Wintour running the length of the stage along with the models, this was a show Walter Van Beirendonck (of the Antwerp 6) took Raf Simons to see, both drawing tremendous inspiration from Margiela’s designs.

A rare photo of Martin Margiela via

What often took center stage in Margiela’s collections is his absence and a complete, pervading sense of anonymity, making his creations the stars rather than the models donning them. In fact, some collections even had the models’ faces hidden; with hair swept over their eyes, faces obscured by black strips, or heads concealed by jewel-encrusted balaclavas, directing complete attention towards the pieces themselves. That’s not to say his creations lack character, quite the opposite really, as evidenced by his Featherlite “duvet” coat from 1999 that retails for $10,000+ now, and more recently, the brand’s AW21 collection featuring clothes meant to be worn inside out. The linings, stitches, labels and other inner constructions serving as quiet symbols of confidence and exclusivity.

But perhaps the ultimate pillar of its identity is the rather nondescript label (FYI, it’s not a calendar!), featuring numbers depicting each of the collections of the house, as seen below, which further bolster its undercover-agent style. Who wouldn’t wanna say “My bag’s from MM11. It shoots laser beams!”, right?

image via

Precious little is known of the designer himself. But alongside working on his own label, Margiela was also tasked as the Creative Director of Womenswear Design at Hermès from 1997 to 2003, all the while being completely secluded from public view and even conducting interviews via fax (remember that? Not me). However, creative differences began to arise between him and Renzo Russo, owner of Diesel, who acquired the house in 2002 and eventually Martin left the house in 2009. For a while afterwards, Maison Martin Margiela was headed by an equally anonymous team of creative designers (during which time, the brand also launched an uber-popular collaboration with H&M, featuring further duvet and upholstery-inspired clothing) until 2014, when John Galliano was finally placed at its helm, ushering us into its Glam Slam-fueled age of popularity.

And now you see that it was only a matter of time before the Pillow bag was conceived by the Maison (Galliano dropped the “Martin”, shortening it to simply Maison Margiela). But while many brands continue riding on this trend of oversized clutches (like Bottega Veneta’s adaptation of the Pouch into the Point bag), MM11 (the handbag and accessories line of Maison Margiela) already has newer styles like the very abstract Snatched bag and the 5AC Satchel (the mini red patent leather is stunning!). Today, celebrities and regular users alike remain ardent fans of the brand’s subtle but powerful ethos and I, for one, am certainly not complaining, because chances are, the next time around you see somebody carrying the Glam Slam under their arms, they’re probably just looking for a quiet corner to doze off. “Hitting the sack” has perhaps never been more glamorous!

Shop Maison Margiela via Farfetch


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