Jenny Meirens

PARIS — Jenny Meirens, cofounder of Maison Martin Margiela and the designer’s longtime business partner, has died after a long illness.

Meirens, who was 73, died Saturday at her residence in Puglia, Italy, confirmed Patrick Scallon, who worked alongside Margiela and Meirens as communications director for many years.

As elusive as the house’s namesake designer, Meirens rarely made public appearances but is reputed to have been the business brains behind the enterprise, which was founded in 1988, and is also credited with playing a major role in the emergence of Belgian designers in the Eighties.

Raf Simons, creative director of Calvin Klein, called Meirens “an extraordinary woman who helped shape and change the way we received and perceived fashion, first in Belgium through her stores and then on a global scale through her partnership with Martin Margiela.

“She was also a funny and warmhearted person to those she cared for,” he said. “I spent many summers in her lovely house in Italy and her home was just like her — simple, elegant, strong and unafraid of the elements around her. My sympathy goes to her family and friends who were so dear to her heart.”

“We know Jenny Meirens as the business partner of Martin Margiela and cofounder of Maison Martin Margiela, one of the most iconic fashion houses of the past three decades,” said Kaat Debo, chief curator and director of MoMu, the fashion museum in Antwerp. “But we tend to forget it probably was not such an evident choice to start up a fashion house with a young designer who at that time was unknown in the fashion world.”

She added, “Fashion now more than ever needs women like Jenny Meirens, people who dare to invest in young talent and dare to trust in their potential.”

Prior to launching Margiela, Meirens was an entrepreneur in Brussels, behind stores such as Crea, which represented brands such as France Andrevie, Montana and Yohji Yamamoto in the Belgian capital. In 1984, she opened Brussels’ first Comme des Garçons store.

She is also credited as being one of the initiators of the original idea for Belgium’s Golden Spindle award, instituted in 1982, a significant step toward helping the country’s young designers emerge on the international scene.

“We can not underestimate the importance of Jenny Meirens in the later success of Belgian fashion,” said Geert Bruloot, owner of Antwerp boutique Coccodrillo, who along with Meirens is described as among the pioneer supporters of Belgian fashion in the Eighties.

“She had a great eye for talent and she must have recognized Margiela’s genius when she decided to start up a fashion house together with him,” said Momu’s Debo.

“It shows how passionate she was about what she was doing. She was ready to take the risk and start this adventure because she believed in the potential of Martin as an avant-garde designer and of her and Martin working together in order to establish something new and exciting. I don’t think we see that kind of entrepreneurs any more today, which is a pity.”

Bruloot recalled, “She was one of the two pillars in the success of Maison Martin Margiela, part of a historical duo as there have been very few in contemporary fashion. Thank you, Jenny!”

Makeup artist Inge Grognard, who started out in the Eighties with Belgian designers including Margiela and the Antwerp Six, recalled Meirens, whom she knew from before Margiela’s debut, as a passionate person who was “clear, honest and direct.”

She said, “I will always remember her voice and her laugh, tears and our arguments. She was the woman behind [the scenes], but without her, it wouldn’t be the house it became. [I] miss her.”

Publicist Pierre Rougier of PR Consulting recalled Meirens as “a force.”

He said, “With that came incredible foresight, uncompromising expectations, absolute faith in the vision her and Martin had and an absolute disregard for what anyone could think.”

“After I stopped working for her and Martin Margiela, Jenny came back into my life at a difficult time and took matters in her own hands. Her loyal, discreet but fierce determination to help those she believed in changed the course of my existence entirely — just like she did for many around her. My thoughts are with her family and loved ones.”

Maison Martin Margiela was sold to Renzo Rosso’s OTB in 2002, after which both founders retired from the business.

Meirens recently participated in a documentary and book entitled “We Margiela,” scheduled to be released this year and produced by Mint Film Office.

“When you want to please others and everyone, you will get nowhere. I think you have to diversify yourself from others. In the long run, it will give you the freedom not to answer to the system,” Meirens said on a web page dedicated to the documentary, which features exclusive interviews with Meirens and the creative team who worked with Margiela and Meirens.

According to a web site for the forthcoming film, the former business partners were no longer in touch.

Meirens is survived by her two children, Sophie and Frank. Services have not yet been confirmed.

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