After graduation, Martin Margiela worked as a freelance designer for five years. Between 1985 and 1987 he worked for Jean Paul Gaultier, before showing his first collection under his own label, which he started with his business partner Jenny Meirens in 1989. Between 1997 and 2003 he was the creative director of the Hermès women's line. Martin Margiela was appointed as a Guest member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in 2010.
During the 1980s, the Japanese avantgardists, with Rei Kawakubo—creator of the label Comme des Garçons—had turned the fashion scene upside-down with their eccentric and ground-breaking designs. Martin Margiela and the Antwerp Six would carry on the work, revolting against the luxurious fashion world with garments of oversized proportions such as long arms, and with linings, seams and hems on the outside. The concept of deconstruction (also embraced by Kawakubo) is important for the understanding of Margiela's fashion statement. Margiela famously redesigns by hand objects such as old wigs, canvases and silk scarves into couture garments.
Throughout his career, Margiela has maintained a very low personal profile. He has never given an interview and remains backstage after his shows. His face is not publicly known; throughout his career, only one known photo exists, taken in 1997 by Marcio Madiera (Zepplin photos) but never officially verified. All media contact is dealt with via fax. Maison Martin Margiela's ultra-discreet trademark consists of a piece of cloth with the numbers 0-23. The badge is attached to the inside with four small, white pick-stitches, exposed to the outside on unlined garments. For the 20th anniversary the anonymous tag was replaced by a classic logotype.
Margiela's brand was acquired by the OTB Group in 2002 and industry insiders were quoted as suggesting that Margiela may desire to leave due to creative differences, or simply, "A desire to enjoy his life outside the insistent glare of the fashion world."
A 2008 article from the New York Times gave many in the fashion world their first glimpse of Margiela's face, as well as breaking the news that he allegedly offered to hand the reins of his company over to Raf Simons, who appears to have declined the offer. Haider Ackermann was later offered the position as creative director, but similarly turned it down.
In October 2009, Margiela majority stakeholder Renzo Rosso, President of OTB Group, the holding group of Marni, Viktor & Rolf, and Diesel, publicly stated that, "Martin has not been there for a long time. He is here but not here. We have a new fresh design team on board. We are focusing on young, realistic energy for the future; this is really Margiela for the year 2015."
A press release announced in December 2009 that Margiela "has left the business. No replacement creative director will be appointed. Maison Martin Margiela will continue trading but the company declined to comment on the reasons for Margiela's exit."
In October 2014, John Galliano was appointed as creative director of Maison Martin Margiela, replacing Margiela himself.