John Galliano is no longer the enfant terrible of fashion; he is no longer a media darling, and he sure is no longer a spaceman, a chieftan, or such, taking the customary bow at the end of his shows—in fact, he does not appear to the applause at all for Maison Margiela, but he sure is still uninhibited, unapologetic, and unafraid
So many designers have stressed that they want to veer off street style and re-emphasise tailoring, but it’s John Galliano who’s really taking tailoring to places we have not quite ventured yet—a wonderland (and we mean this literally) that fires the imagination, not just churning out a perfectly-made suit. For the next season, he made us ask in wonderment: really, what more can he do to a jacket, a coat, a dress? And what will he think of next? We know he has always been a master of the tailleur—those suits he did for Dior are still unforgettable and resolutely modern. Now that he has, to us, really found his groove at Maison Margiela, and not make mad clothes for madness’ sake, as he did at the start, we find his designs compelling, even if only because they astound.
There’s a lot to unpack at Maison Margiela, but what delightful unpacking. In keeping with the house’s deconstruction legacy, Mr Galliano, in fact, not only deconstructed, he reconstructed, and, sometimes, post-constructed, also not omitting the technique known as décortiqué (meaning to shell a lobster or, in Mr Galliano’s case, shedding the carapace of the superfluous), leaving those of us fascinated by how clothes are made (or engineered, if you want to take it further) quite enthralled, and with lots to see. It wasn’t just the ideas, but how he thought of them and how he made them happen. And, how he was able to temper idiosyncrasy with exactitude. Simply put, he made our spine tingle.
He offered tailoring that was raw, feminine, and against the rules. There were jackets with Watteau back (a personal favourite); shell tops with tromp l’œil (the Latin grapheme ‘œ’ itself evocative of Mr Galliano’s visual ligatures) blazer front (including stitching that suggests tailor’s chalk marks); a bodysuit, unfastened at the crotch, that looked like it was cut out of a jacket (with racer back, no less!); outer wear with sleeve treatment that seemed to house the arms inside like a cape, but with openings above the elbow that allowed the arms to hang outside, (which then would change the silhouette of the garment!) if desired. And the quirky details, such as upper arms with cut-outs that flop like Mickey’s ears (does his flop?) and from the rear looked like lantern sleeves. We’re not done unpacking, not even half-way through.
Even when he was ‘good’—in dressmaking terms, conventional, ‘regular’ outer wear, including the swing coat, the car coat, the trench, and even le smoking, were not only precisely cut (and just rightly oversized), but also the epitome of perfection. The surprisingly few dresses—no bias-cut splendour so associated with Mr Galliano—was sufficiently off-beat without crossing into unwearable or hobo territory, with one lace shift left raw-edged and worn under a shower-curtain twin with Rabannesque, linked harlequin squares. The plastic a see-through that sees through nothing except the delicate layering inside that is unexpectedly even more covered up, and in a version for men, too.
The collection is, of course, gender-fluid—a recurrent theme in Paris this season. Although not quite as outlandish (men in dresses is, frankly, not eyebrow-raising any more), it points to an earlier time (mainly ’80s), when, in London especially, hedonistic fashion indulgences saw no gender divide. Boy George, despite the gender-specific first and second names, emerged from this period to raves by not restraining himself to conventions of dress. Mr Galliano himself alluded to the clubbing days of his student years, when the impresario/stylist/nightclub promoter of the day was the headlining Australian Leigh Bowery (1961—1994), whose “polysexual”, as he called it, club Taboo was where sexually-ambivalent clothing set the clubbers apart. The wacky, if not outrageous, looks later went borderline mainstream through publications such as the now defunct The Face, in which Mr Bowery has styled its pages and appeared as gender-, even creature-, indeterminate—an amalgam of cultures, photographed by Nick Knight.
The gender-undefined styles of Mr Bowery and his cohorts impacted Mr Galliano, who lived through, absorbed, and enjoyed this era of fashion mayhem. Like Leigh Bowery (also a fashion designer, but of significantly less profound stature), he is an astute gatherer of not just cultural mismatch, but visual discordance, who could use fashion to express something about society at large. Like many other designers, there’s cultural commentary (no one just makes clothes anymore) in this one. In the pre-show screening of a black-and-white video (projected almost all-around on the walls), Mr Galliano had six women—the “mutinists”—talk about individualism, with Willow Smith urging all to “Create the rules, then break them”. John Galliano has long stopped breaking rules since he has broken most, if not all, of them; he now makes his very own.