Martin Margiela: In His Own Words (4 stars)

Martin Margiela: In His Own Words

Fascinating documentary about the enigmatic fashion designer, from Reiner Holzemer

Fashion's convention-defying man of mystery, Martin Margiela, is partially unmasked in this absorbing documentary from writer-director Reiner Holzemer. Although only his hands are seen, the filmmaker secures impressive access to a figure whose two-decade spell in the spotlight consisted of a steady stream of innovation, which enshrined his place in the history books, with his influence still glaringly evident in the fashion world to this day.

The shy-and-retiring protégé of the larger-than-life Jean-Paul Gaultier, the Belgian-born Margiela trained at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, before securing a spot as Gaultier's assistant in the mid-80s. His ambition of becoming a Parisian fashion designer, held since he was just seven-years-old, became a reality with the launch of his label in his adopted city in 1989.

With Margiela as our guide, we're taken through an extraordinarily dynamic career, coming to understand the sincerity behind then seemingly provocative choices: shows staged in sketchy neighbourhoods and parking lots; models walking through red paint, or strutting down the catwalk with masks, or with the plastic protective covers still draped over their clothing; jewellery made of coloured ice, which altered the creations as it melted; Margiela's work with vintage clothing and early adoption of street casting; his rejection of conventional branding, epitomised by his signature blank label with four white stiches.

Margiela introduces us to his immaculately organised archive – which includes such childhood creations as tiny garments produced for Barbie dolls, made first by his dressmaker grandmother and eventually by himself. Speaking in excellent, softly delivered English, Margiela manages to be both proud of his work and humble, articulate and unpretentious; he talks about the importance of the shoulder and shoe in achieving a memorable silhouette. With archive footage leading the way, we watch as he deconstructs, plays with concepts and consistently, spectacularly confounds. Back in the present-day, the designer's hands continue to create as he reminisces, giving us further insight into his process.

He describes the thinking behind his virtual anonymity – 'I made this decision to protect myself; I could give more if I was protected,' – but is much less forthcoming about his departure from the scene. For the most part, though, Margiela's input provides an invaluable accompaniment to designs which always seemed to speak for themselves. It's a fascinating journey through a ceaselessly imaginative mind.

Available to watch on demand from Fri 10 Apr.