Poetry in motion

An interview with Robert Mercier, the master craftsman behind those incredible Margiela leather porcelain pieces
By Barry Pierce | Fashion | 1 February 2024

Robert Mercier is a leather artist with over 30 years of experience under his belt. If any of the major fashion houses want a custom piece that feels like alchemy in leather, they call up Robert. This is exactly what happened about a year ago when John Galliano started planning his (already legendary) Maison Margiela Artisanal ’24 show. Mercier crafted a series of leather bibs that looked as if they were porcelain for the models to wear around their necks – the whole show was a gloriously weird affair with the models looking like Victorian dolls that have come alive, testing out their once fixed limbs for the first time. Elsewhere, there were bibs that looked as if they were wood, but they too were leather, ingeniously manipulated by Mercier.

You may not have previously known Mercier’s name but you absolutely know his work. Remember Zendaya’s wet-look leather dress at Venice? That was Robert Mercier for Balmain. Hunter Schafer’s feather bandeau at the Vanity Fair Oscars party? That was Mercier for Ann Demeulemeester. Beyoncé’s break-the-internet bee outfit for the Renaissance tour? Mercier for Mugler.

The reaction to Mercier’s creations, and the show itself, have been rapturous. We contacted Mercier to discover more about his meticulous process and vivid imagination – alongside images of the pieces mid-creation inside his Paris studio.

Barry Pierce: What was the original brief that you received from Maison Margiela?
Robert Mercier: I was immediately asked for a bib, with a doll photo and a plate. The brief was very clear, but the difficulty was to create this porcelain effect, to maintain the flexibility to be able to put it on and to keep it light.

BP: How different was the manufacturing process compared to other projects?
RM: The challenge was to mould a neck shape with leather without interior structure and for the finish to be perfect.

BP: You’ve stated that the actual manufacturing process will remain a secret, but is there anything you can share about your process of making the pieces that won’t give it all away?
RM: When I develop a technique for a luxury house, I keep the technique secret. We must not forget that it involves hours and hours of research. What I can tell you is that for manufacturing I make a mould. With the team, we worked on the dimensions and slope of the trapezoids. Subsequently, I sculpted an upper body to mould my leather. It is an artisanal and traditional process; simply wet the leather, place it on the mould to stabilise it and leave it to dry. For the bark one, I used a stone that I chose in my garden to create the imprints on it.

BP: How has it felt witnessing the hugely positive reaction to the show online? Some have been calling it one of the greatest fashion shows ever. It’s a testament to the way fashion can unite and tell great stories.
RM: I reacted like many people who saw this parade – I was shocked like I’ve never been before. All this poetry. I honestly didn’t think I would experience this one day. I think it’s a show that will make fashion history and I’m very proud to have participated in it.

BP: Have you always been a fan of Maison Margiela and John Galliano? What was it like to work with Galliano?
RM: I have always loved Martin Margiela’s work – they are all experimental. Mr. Galliano’s audacity and style always leave me speechless. I like the mastery and the chaos, it suits me completely.

BP: How did you first become involved in leather craft? And how do you view your craft in terms of evolving traditional methods?
RM: I have been working with leather for over 30 years. I started with wood sculpture but when I discovered leather and its possibilities I immediately fell in love. People need meaning and authenticity. A few years ago we were impressed to see a machine making objects but now we want to see artisans working. Demand is very strong and what is interesting is the combination of tradition and innovation.

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