Galliano shows his artistry in debut collection for Maison Margiela
In an anonymous office tower near Buckingham Palace, a new chapter quietly and discreetly opened in John Galliano’s life when he presented a small debut collection for Maison Margiela to friends and a handful of fashion press.
Galliano’s highly anticipated return to the fashion fold showed that his absence, following an anti-Semetic rant in 2011 that went viral, has not diminished his creative powers. His ‘Artisan’ couture collection ranged from the extravagant aesthetic for which he is renowned, to designs of sublime simplicity.
In front of friends that included Anna Wintour, Alber Elbaz, Kate Moss and Jasper Conran (whom Galliano assisted in his early days) and photographer Nick Knight, the one-time Christian Dior designer paid homage to the artisan skills of Maison Margiela, now controlled by Only the Brave group. Galliano took his bow in a signature white Margiela lab coat - a far cry from his previous end of show flamboyance.
Only the Brave president Renzo Rosso, who gave Galliano his second chance, said, “We wanted to create a new era for Margiela and a new era for John and thanks to the superb talent of John’s I think we can make a super contribution to the fashion world.”
The intimate show of 24 outfits revealed Galliano at his best, exploring a treasure chest of vintage fabrics and using an eclectic mix of discarded objects from exotic shells, glittering jewels and pearls to create flamboyant dresses and coats. This arcane concept of a collection evolving from “found objects” has always underpinned Margiela’s Artisan line, and the craftsmanship in the Margiela ateliers is every bit equal to that of Christian Dior.
The show opened with a gilet of patchwork suede trimmed with black toy cars, and segued into coats and dresses encrusted with mask-like assemblages of lacquered shells and romantic dresses appliquéd with random materials to create surreal faces (above). The artistry and imagination showed Galliano working at full stretch. Some of the imagery, such as the masks, was vaguely disturbing, while others were pure poetry.
There were hints of the deconstruction from his early days as a designer, with jackets chopped up and reassembled and some flashy showgirl-meets-punk looks, but there were also very wearable short coats, tuxedos and two divinely elegant red dresses with deeply scooped out backs. Also in evidence was the extravagant styling of Galliano’s past, with models’ heads draped and pasted with jewels, including pearl teardrops, which seemed symbolic of the designer’s recent problems.
What was fascinating was a finale that recalled Galliano’s absorption with deconstruction, showing the toiles for each design on the catwalk. It was an extraordinary insight into his creative process.
“I just wanted to press pause and study things more and enjoy it. I thought it magical, and each piece had a story to tell,” said Christopher Bailey, CEO and creative director of Burberry.
“I loved the spirit,” said shoe designer Manolo Blahnik, who used to collaborate with Galliano on his shows.
Kate Moss, who demonstrated her loyalty to the designer after his ejection from Dior for his anti-Semitic slurs by asking him to design her wedding dress, was delighted. “I am so pleased to have him back, fashion was missing him,” she said.
The 54-year-old designer chose to show his debut collection for Maison Margiela in London at the tail end of the menswear collections, rather than at the haute couture shows in Paris later this month, because he wanted to come back to where he began – and head off any comparison with Dior’s show.
If the French felt affronted, it wasn’t in evidence: many made the trip to London to watch his comeback. One client said after the show they thought he had paid his penance: “It is the right time for him to come back.”
However, Galliano and Maison Margiela will be back on the Paris schedule for the ready-to-wear collections in March, and judging by this beautiful, intriguing collection, there is much to look forward to.