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Maison Martin Margiela Highlights Its History in Beijing Exhibition

Maison Martin Margiela unveiled its first retrospective exhibition in Mainland China last week, featuring a gallery of cotton-covered dummies, a car draped in a sheet, the contents of an anonymous woman's handbag on a podium and, of course, some clothes.

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BEIJING — Maison Martin Margiela unveiled its first retrospective exhibition in Mainland China last week, featuring a gallery of cotton-covered dummies, a car draped in a sheet, the contents of an anonymous woman's handbag on a podium and, of course, some clothes.

Hong Kong retailer I.T. sponsored the exhibit, which runs through July 1 at Beijing's 798 Art District, an abandoned factory district that was taken over by contemporary artists in the mid-Nineties. Eight rooms displayed archive documents, videos and samples of Margiela's designs, allowing visitors to interact with notable pieces from past collections and the designer's quirky side projects.

Rather than opt for real-life models or mannequins, Margiela dressed life-size photo boards of models with his creations, like a slate leather jacket overrun with blue veins and a stiff piecemeal vest. Other notable displays included a Margiela-designed car cover and a vintage wedding dress torn apart and reassembled into a sexy strapless gown. Another room featured snapshots and three-dimensional renderings of Margiela's flagships in cities such as London, Paris and New York.

A few executives from the house, clad in Margiela's signature white lab coats, were present to oversee the event but, true to Margiela's eccentric manner, they declined to be quoted for this story.

"An exhibition showing the different aspects of the house is quite rare," said Maison Martin Margiela in a statement. "This is a chance for us to present ourselves [in China], to present the house's philosophy and DNA."

Margiela already has won over at least one famous fan. Chinese actress Zhou Xun, from the film "The Banquet," put in an appearance at the exhibit's opening cocktail on Friday, clad in a horse-print dress with exaggerated shoulders from the spring 2008 line.

"His designs are full of imagination," she said. "I like how he takes everyday objects and manipulates them into new forms."

Margiela executives said they "definitely" see a Beijing flagship in the company's future but they declined to elaborate on timing. The brand plans to enter four to five second-tier cities in Mainland China over the next year, they said. Still, it will take a while for some Chinese consumers to get used to the house's unconventional approach to fashion. As a small movie theater at the exhibit screened short movies of a model trying on Margiela clothing, one female spectator shouted out: "They're all crazy!"
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