Martin Margiela’s Melting Ice

For many, the arrival of winter brings with it a longing for summer. The cold has a way of expunging memories of sweaty afternoons spent with a cold drink pressed to the forehead in a desperate attempt to cool down. In a playful confrontation of this sensorial paradox, Maison Martin Margiela’s Spring/Summer ’06 collection, shown just as winter crept into Paris in 2005, features necklaces, earrings, bracelets and belts strung with coloured ice cubes. Continuing a process that no doubt began with a hairdryer backstage, the bright stage lights and the heat from the bodies of the audience and models melt the ice so that the dye – green, purple, blue and pink – runs down the models’ skin and seeps into their white clothes.

Maison Margiela, Spring 2006 Ready-to-wear. Photo: Marcio Madeira.
Maison Margiela, Spring 2006 Ready-to-wear. Photo: Marcio Madeira.
Maison Margiela, Spring 2006 Ready-to-wear. Photo: Marcio Madeira.

Jewellery created from ice is an amusing play on the senses. Ice can have the transparency or the sparkle of a gemstone and feels cool to the touch just like jewellery. For decades, hip-hop artists have used ice as a metaphor for diamond jewellery in reference to the optic and haptic crossovers. The obvious difference is that ice cubes, unlike diamonds, do not last forever. The water, artificially and temporarily frozen, therefore speaks to the artifice and temporality of fashion. Both the ice and the clothes are visually altered as time unfolds before the audience.

This visible change recalls Margiela’s ‘9/4/1615’ exhibition held in 1997 at Rotterdam’s Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, for which the clothes on display had been sprayed with living mould, yeast or bacteria. While the decay occurred at a slower rate than the melting of ice, each visitor would see a slightly different stage of development. Caroline Evans notes that each piece, recreated from the designer’s archive and decomposing before an audience, is ‘saturated with complex historical meanings’, hinting at Martin Margiela’s own complex relationship with history and time.

Martin Margiela’s personal and professional archive, unpacked in the 2020 documentary Martin Margiela: In His Own Words, is a testament to his reverence for the past. This obsessive accumulation and preservation of objects might appear at odds with his reputation for deconstruction. Rather than being rooted in any sense of destructive violence, however, his deconstructive practice was based in ‘care for the material object and sartorial techniques’, as noted by Alison Gill. In this way, Margiela’s particular brand of deconstruction can be considered much closer to conservation.

Watching pure white fabric stained haphazardly, like an ice lolly dripped on a cotton dress, has the potential to be jarring. Instead, something in the wet, candy-coloured mess created is enlivening and joyful. The grotesque mixture of melted ice and oil sticks the models’ hair to their skin and causes their makeup to bleed, engaging the audience’s haptic imagination. The streetcast models, who smile and dance, amplify this effect with their relatability. Just as Elizabeth Wilson notes that grunge recalls glamour, here, the grotesque is inviting. The effect, according to Vogue, is ‘a hot display of grittily glamourous womanhood [that could] reduce any man to a pool of water’. Unlike Shalom Harlow, dancing in distress as her dress was spray-painted by robot arms at Alexander McQueen’s show seven years earlier, Margiela’s models exude cool acceptance as the recently frozen water spreads across their skin. Rather than destruction, or even creation, this is something more passive and voyeuristic: decay, or, as Evans described the process at the exhibition, ‘decay without revulsion’.

Maison Margiela, Spring 2006 Ready-to-wear. Photo: Marcio Madeira.
Maison Margiela, Spring 2006 Ready-to-wear. Photo: Marcio Madeira.

By Lucy Corkish


Maison Margiela SPRING 2006 READY-TO-WEAR on Vogue Runway: Words by Sarah Mower, Photographs by Marcio Madeira (

Caroline Evans, ‘The Golden Dustman: A critical evaluation of the work of Martin Margiela and a review of Martin Margiela: Exhibition (9/4/1615)’, Fashion Theory 2:1 (1998), pp. 73-93

Elizabeth Wilson, ‘A Note on Glamour’, Fashion Theory, 11:1 (2007), 95-108

Reiner Holzemer, Martin Margiela: In His Own Words, cinematographer Toon Illegems (2020; London: Dogwoof)

Alison Gill, ‘Deconstruction Fashion: The Making of Unfinished, Decomposing and Re-assembled Clothes’, Fashion Theory 2:1 (1998), pp. 25-49

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