Photos: Maison Martin Margiela Untitled

One fashion company I would love to have seen retain its independence from the corporate takeover is Maison Martin Margiela. Deliberately “anti-fashion” while being highly fashion forward at the same time, the Margiela brand was known for the unexpected: exposed seams, oversized garments, the use of graphic prints, asymmetric details, creative washes and extreme distressing techniques — all long before such stylistic flourishes were utilized for the mainstream.

“It’s for a tiny group of women, and not everyone will like it,” said Margiela in a 1999 telephone interview with Women’s Wear Daily. “It’s important to do what you want, and there will always be some people who agree.”

But in 2002, the multinational Diesel fashion company (led by CEO Renzo Rosso, and with annual sales of €1.3 billion in 2009) acquired the Margiela brand, greatly expanding Margiela’s global distribution, but at what cost?

Maison Martin Margiela Untitled

There’s still a Margiela feel to the house’s collections since the sale to Diesel, yet there’s been a greater forcus of attention on consumer awareness and commercial appeal, with their latest “artisanal” show for Fall 2010 — a higher-end, handmade collection that might be considered a kind of rock-n-roll haute couture if Margiela were an official couturier — exploring a rough-hewn, wild-west premise filled with leathers and furs. Not so daring or experimental as past collections, but certainly easy enough for the average consumer to grasp.

And now we have a Maison Martin Margiela perfume, the kind of commercial brand market entry that every multinational entity needs if it’s to keep the necessary revenue flow switched to “incoming”, and likely the exact kind of move the Margiela brand would have eschewed on its own. But that’s what you get when you sell a controlling stake to a marketing-whiz company like Diesel. The deep pockets are nice, but deep pockets require high-profit margin accessories, and what’s higher profit margin than a simple bottle of scented juice produced on a mass scale?

Maison Martin Margiela Untitled

Fortunately, Margiela’s Untitled fragrance is a nice, wearable market entry, but like all things (and people) described as “nice”, it’s also rather forgettable once the intitial rush of salty, greenery-tinged galbanum piffles out after about 90 minutes — and what a dose of galbanum it is! Think Escentric Molecules and the similar overdose of IsoE Super for Molecule 01 and you’re on the right path.

But despite Untitled’s EDP classification, the whole show has run through its lines and taken its final bows in the short space of four hours, which makes it a great choice if you’re looking to wear a pleasantly left-of-center fragrance through a short afternoon lunch, a brief business interview or a quick round of errands 101. If you require an option that lasts you through the entire workday, however, then you’ll either have to haul the bottle along in your tote bag, gym bag, handbag or briefcase (it’s the epitome of unisex) and refresh every three to four hours, or else purchase a fragrance that packs some genuine longevity. Your choice.

*Clarification: The fragrance technically lasts a good 8+ hours, but it fades into such intimate softness halfway through that you could easily forget you’re wearing a fragrance at all (and that’s after a healthy 8 head-to-toe sprays on my part — and I’ve tested this repeatedly; 8 sprays should produce at least a subtle veil, not a near invisible shrinkwrap, though it’s possible that if I upped the application to 10 or 12 sprays, this could be achieved . . . ?). Yet keeping the initial dosage lower and reapplying a spray or two every 3-4 hours could very well be an acceptable choice in this case as Untitled is eminently easy on the nose, and its galbanum heavy intro is a delight.

Maison Martin Margiela Untitled

Due to the strikingly anti-glam design ethos of the Margiela brand, the packaging for Untitled is one of the best parts about it. The stark white box with its rows of numbers printed on the front is an echo of the Margiela product tag — there’s no Margiela brand logo, just the generic looking inside tag with a circled number to designate the category of merchandise, and four small white stitches that show on the exterior of clothing and bags.

*Note: The four white threads can be removed if you want to seriously play the Margiela anti-branding game; otherwise, you can simply (albeit subtly) flaunt your selection of a high-end designer brand that pretends it’s not playing the high-end designer name game — which is precisely the kind of mind-bender that Margiela does so well.

The bottle comes wrapped in a white cloth pouch that’s reminiscent of the Margiela shops themselves, where everything is white (the shelves, walls, floors, ceilings, stairs, lighting fixtures, etc.), and the bottle was art-directed by Fabien Baron and inspired by 19th century glass stoppered bottles (though the cap is plastic, in this case).

What at first glance I had assumed would be a paper label is actually a kind of white vinyl (?) coating that’s designed to look like the bottle was rolled in paint, and the atomizer is a very Margiela-friendly thin steel pump that goes hand-in-hand with the industrial theme of the brand’s boutiques — very fun to use if you’re a Margiela fan and get a kick out of how they (“they” being L’Oreal, in this case) managed to successfully capture the anti-glam vibe in a commercial perfume release.

Maison Martin Margiela Untitled

Because I’m not averse to “ingredient voice“, I’m fine with listing what’s been passed around as the contents of the of the Untitled fragrance: Bigaradier (aka Neroli), Galbanum, Incense, Lentisque and White Musk (Serenolide™ by Givaudan).

*Note: Serenolide is described as “an elegant white musk with sweet fruity connotations providing warm and soft velvety notes that blend well with all kinds of trendy fruity accords.”

But that’s not entirely helpful, is it? Here, let me combine it with the list of suggested scent notes: Galbanum essence, Box green, Bitter orange blossom absolute, Lentiscus resinoid, Jasmine, Galbanum resinoid, Musk, Cedar and Incense resinoid. Which, really, is just a fancy way of saying, “Untitled is a bittersweet, almost savory resin with hints of wood and greens that gives up the ghost way too soon.”

The fragrance was composed by Ms. Daniela Andrier, who’s also created about 17 perfumes for Prada to date, which must be why Denyse Beaulieu sprayed Untitled on a card in the Paris Margiela boutique and emphatically announced that it was “the best Prada fragrance that Prada never commissioned” . . . much to the visible annoyance of the white lab-coated Margiela sales assistants standing nearby.

It was everything I could do to stifle my giggles.

Maison Martin Margiela Untitled

And just a quick comment on the title of the fragrance (as it seems to baffle some people): the Margiela label has a history of anti-establishment and anti-consumerist behavior, with the clothing models usually in identity obscuring masks of some type, the actual Margiela boutiques located on side streets away from traditionally fashionable street addresses, the designer himself refusing to do the public walk-and-wave after his own fashion shows, and even conducting interviews only by fax or by telephone, never in person. Along with the stark white shop interiors, the industrial furnishings and the lack of a recognizable logo, titling their first commercial fragrance release “Untitled” pretty much nails the Margiela attitude and is in perfect keeping with the rest of the brand’s presentation and imagery.

But I have to admit, you’re probably going to have to be a Margiela fan to really care that much about ‘Untitled’ one way or the other. The concept is interesting and the fragrance starts off as initially quite unique, but gradually ends up as merely . . . nice. Other opinions are below:

Octavian at 1000 Fragrances: “It is very soft, pleasant and sensual worn on skin and it suggests the scent of a precious traditional soap with a very strange note similar to yeast, lie de vin and several alcohols.”

Get Lippie: “I spent a lot of time as a youngster with rosin under my nails, I recall, and this was a very unexpected and not unwelcome scent-memory! I’ve since read that the top-note is Galbanum, which is indeed, a resin. It’s an unusual, quite sweet scent (on me), without being sugary.”

London Makeup Girl: “A pleasingly complex green scent . . . I can’t say it pushes Ormonde Woman off my own ‘favourite green and woody scent’ top spot, but it’s a very good fragrance, and I think fans of the couture will be pleased by the fragrance.”

Marina at Perfume Smellin’ Things: “I find the combination of the sharp yet fleshy green of galbanum and the sweetly-tarry, almost leathery incense very appealing. The fusion lends (Untitled) a feeling of being both sparse and satisfyingly robust.”

Maison Martin Margiela Untitled

Maison Martin Margiela Untitled has not yet been launched in the United States, but a fragrance friend of mine generously snagged me this bottle from Paris once she discovered my interest in the release (another ridiculously generous friend is responsible for sending me the beautiful Margiela book that’s featured in the background of some of the above photos). If you find you can’t wait until the eventual U.S. launch date, you can order online from the Colette website. They’ll ship internationally.

*Note: The designer Martin Margiela is famously reclusive, fueling speculation that Margiela the man is a construct, an anonymous stand-in for the Antwerp Six, a group of avantgard Belgian fashion designers who may (or may not) have used the Margiela brand as a means for expressing creative ideas too outside the mainstream for their own eponymous fashion labels. But exist or not, the Margiela influence on the world of fashion is impossible to deny. Of further note, it was announced that Margiela (the man or the group) officially parted ways with the brand in 2009, but the Diesel statement is that Margiela had been absent from day to day operations for quite some time before that, citing creative differences and a desire to pursue other interests.

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