On Saturday “Margiela / Galliera 1989-2009” opens in Paris, featuring the work of Martin Margiela, the sui generis Belgian designer who did things his way and then walked away. While Margiela might have exited stage right (today John Galliano is ably heading up the label), the designer’s influence has only continued to grow, fanned in part by the emergence of Demna Gvasalia, who cut his teeth at the brand which operated on the edge of the fashion system.

Often mistakenly described as one of the Antwerp Six, Margiela worked for Jean Paul Gaultier before going solo in 1988. He didn’t give interviews or sit for portraits and became known as “the Greta Garbo of fashion.” The idea was to direct attention to his clothes and the concepts behind them—both the flat-folding garments and the upcycled ones. The closest the maison ever came to logomania was when they constructed clothing out of labels clipped from vintage clothes; Margiela’s own clothes carried a “ghost” tag and are marked with four white stitches.

Margiela is remembered as one of fashion’s leading deconstructionists, or what the French called “la mode Destroy.” If that sounds negative, Margiela’s work, like his shows, was about positive energy. Sure, he took things apart, but he put them back together too, and he seemed to have fun doing so. Margiela exposed seams and exaggerated shoulders. He found inspiration everywhere, from furniture to the humble plastic sack. He played with fashion, enlarging doll’s clothes to adult proportions, printing sequins trompe l’oeil–style on dresses, and transforming traditional leather goods into witty clothes. By turning things inside out, Margiela turned the fashion world upside down and, somehow, set it right.

Not in Paris, or preparing to travel to see the Galliera’s show? Prep by looking through 14 early collections from our archives.

Maison Martin Margiela Spring 1993

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Romance isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when Martin Margiela’s name is mentioned, but it was abundantly present in this Spring ’93 show, which paired minimalism with Victoriana. There were petticoat-style skirts, galloon-trimmed jackets, and sprigs of greenery tied and hung like pendants around the neck or affixed with tape to models including Cecilia Chancellor, Emma Balfour, and—wait for it—a young Kate Moss. As pretty as the collection was, it was mayhem outside. Margiela scheduled two 8:30 p.m. shows at opposite ends of Montmartre Cemetery. At one, the clothes and invitation were black, at the other, white. Show up to the wrong show and you were denied entrance, unless, that is, you were Rei Kawakubo.

Maison Martin Margiela Spring 1995

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Another way Margiela was ahead of his time: He questioned the traditional runway format. Discussing his Fall ’94 season, Vogue declared, “Bad boy Margiela refused to show his collection to the press before it hits the stores in September.” When it came time to present his line for Spring ’95, he was back in show mode, but the presentation came with a twist. “The models sat amid the audience in the theater that housed the show,” The New York Times reported, “until a bell rang and they lined up two deep across the stage to take their turn in the spotlight.” Among the looks that deserved their time there: slip dresses, a tailored check suit, crisp white strapless tops, and a romantic nightgown dress with a gathered bodice worthy of a latter-day Guinevere.

Maison Martin Margiela Fall 1995

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What distinguished this show, besides the face masks, was Margiela’s use of color. Hot pink, garnet, and lavender mingled with navy and black in a lineup that included everything from a floor-length crushed velvet dress to a petit écolier–style cape to mechanics’ jumpsuits. Many looks were tied with hair-trimmed belts. Depending on one’s perspective, the overall effect was either an edgy street vibe or what The New York Times called a “Salvation Army mood.”

A waltz played as models walked amid the audience in bleachers set up in a circus tent in the Bois de Boulogne. The finale featured unmasked models—and balloons. Cheery, celebratory, childlike touches, including not just balloons but also sparklers and star-topped wands, were as essential to the house’s point of view as the designer’s anonymity and his assistants’ white lab coats.

Maison Martin Margiela Spring 1996

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As models wearing shoes affixed to their feet with clear packing tape walked down a wine-bottle-lined “catwalk” made of assembled tables, they were urged along by pom-pom-wielding cheerleaders. The models sported trompe l’oeil photo prints of knits, stripes, and sequins, some of which would be reprised when the house collaborated with H&M in 2012. After making a masked appearance, the girls came out a second time, revealing their faces. Masks would become a familiar trope in the post-Margiela, pre-Galliano years, with nobody wearing more of them than Kanye West.

Maison Martin Margiela Fall 1996

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Spring’s masks were replaced with half-painted faces, and laddered nylon stockings were worn over the house’s signature tabi-toe boots. Beyond those styling details, Margiela played with outsize proportions: Pants were wide, belts even wider, and gloves so elongated as to double as sleeves. Each model had a light-bearing escort, making sure gems like reworked denim skirts were well illuminated. Margiela, mused The New York Times, “doesn’t care much if the proportions seem strange to the eye, if the way he puts his pieces together . . . [looks] unlike what women wear today. That’s the point of being avant-garde, isn’t it? To disturb in some way.”

Maison Martin Margiela Spring 1997

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Margiela’s twin obsessions were dissection and reconstruction. His Spring ’97 collection introduced what would become a signature piece, a top that referenced the humble dress form on which it was made. Like dressmaker dummies, Margiela’s linen tops were numbered and lettered. Printed at the bottom were the words “semi couture,” reminding us of the anonymous hands that are involved in the making of any garment.

Maison Martin Margiela Fall 1997

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Why have one show when you can have three? That seemed to be Margiela’s thought for Fall ’97, a show in which models were shuttled among three mini venues in the Place de la République via white buses. The collection featured new versions of the previous season’s dressmaker-form tops and even more explicit references to the materials and process of clothing construction. There were jackets made of pattern paper, visible basting stitches, and layered looks that were literally pinned together in parts. One-armed and asymmetric garments gave the impression they were half-finished. If wigs made from old fur coats (commissioned from Bless) were a bit outré, sleeveless coats and chunky knits never looked better.

Maison Martin Margiela Spring 1998

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“When not worn these pieces are totally flat,” read the words at the back of a stage on which men in white lab coats presented clothing on hangers as if at an auction. A video showing the garments on models also played. In 1990, fascinated with proportions, Margiela had reproduced a doll’s wardrobe in adult sizes. The challenge for Spring ’98 involved geometry, specifically how to make two-dimensional garments that would lie perfectly flat when not on a three-dimensional body. Pictured in the photo above: a designer version of the everyday plastic grocery sack, which Margiela had already transformed into a top at the very beginning of his career.

Maison Martin Margiela Fall 1998

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Margiela was obsessed with clothes: how they were constructed, what shape they took, and the ways in which they were sold. His focus was on garments, not the women on which they were shown, and for two consecutive seasons he made do without live models. Men in lab coats substituted for Spring; for Fall ’98, marionettes created by stylist Jane How took the stage. Among the most striking pieces in this collection, shown late at night at the Grande Arche de la Défense, were the plastic-wrapped looks with Margiela’s signature pagoda sleeve, plastic wrapping being an idea that came back around for Spring ’16 at Loewe.

Maison Martin Margiela Spring 1999

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Ten years after Margiela launched his label, his Spring ’99 show was a greatest hits collection, of sorts. Trompe l’oeil prints referenced ones shown for Spring ’96, doll’s clothes blown up to human size nodded to Fall ’94, and Stockman mannequin tops to Spring ’97. Also in the mix were some 1950s varsity sports touches and pant fronts worn as aprons or like trains.

Maison Martin Margiela Spring 2000

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This was the first of a pair of shows focused on overblown proportions applied to wardrobe staples like trenchcoats, men’s shirts, bombers, and slip dresses, all of which were enlarged by 148, 150, or 200 percent. But size wasn’t Margiela’s only concern for Spring ’00: Carefully placed price stickers and electronic security tags commented on the marketing and selling of fashion, as well. What the de-heeled shoes were meant to say is less clear. The collection was served up not on a runway but, commented The New York Times, “on round tabletops in a room that looked set up for a Rotarian dinner.”

Maison Martin Margiela Fall 2000

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“La mode du XXL” remained Margiela’s fixation through Spring into Fall 2000, though the latter show was more elegant and sculptural, with beautifully shaped sleeves and silhouettes, sized 74 and 78.

Maison Martin Margiela Spring 2001

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Margiela once turned socks into a sweater and gloves into a purse. For Spring ’01, he went with gloves again, this time turning them into a witty vest that might just have inspired Simon Porte Jacquemus’s Fall ’15 show. Notable, too, were the man-tailored pieces presented by models moving around a petal-strewn floor at the Louvre.

Maison Martin Margiela Fall 2001

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Forget rose petals. For his Fall ’01 show, Margiela chose a location in a tunnel under Paris’s Pont Alexandre III. Models wore rock tees, thigh-high boots, silken men’s robes, and fringed dresses. It was one of his most street-inflected collections ever.

See eight of the collections Martin Margiela designed for Hermès, here.