At Maison Margiela, John Galliano illustrates what in fine form means
You know John Galliano is on a high when he is able to work and deliver on a theme seemingly unconnected with fashion, but reflects the side of humanity that we should’t be proud of. Back in January of 2000, Mr Galliano imagined a Dior couture collection inspired by the homeless of Paris (including outers that looked like newspapers vagrants cover themselves with for warmth) that resulted in controversy so massive that the widespread disapproval of the provocative optics threatened to block out the genius of the designs—extravagant dishevelment included, so much so that the initially-defiant designer eventually had to say that he “never want to make a spectacle of misery”.
We knew not if he actually meant it, but Mr Galliano continues to aim for visual impact gleaned from the most unlikely places. This season, it’s the uniformed personnel who punctuate war-torn destruction. Conflicts are never easy to interpret, even in art, and Mr Galliano risks further disapproval if the idea means his approval of war. Yet, this is not to romanticise armed confrontation. Mr Galliano calls it a theme of “hope”, with nods to the figures of hope such as American soldier of WWII KT Robbins (whose heartfelt romance with Frenchwoman Jeannine Ganaye spans 75 years and across two continents) and British nurse Edith Louisa Cavell (from WWI, known to aid the allied and all alike, and was later executed by German firing squad), possibly this season’s Marchesa Luisa Casati. This is the closest to his weakness for historicism since joining Maison Margiela, and one of his most inspiring collections for the house yet.
While war themes may mean military uniforms or destruction of life and the attendant gore, Mr Galliano has, instead, chosen a particular glamour associated with those war years of the first and second and between, possibly cinematic glamour, but no where near the too-literal soldierly styles of the Andrew Sisters. He seems to draw from the infirmary than the trenches, from nurses than troops. While the re-imagining of British military coats yield some delectable deconstructed outer wear, it is his focus on what the nursing corp wore that we found especially appealing. Mr Galliano gleans from a time before strict policies about nursing uniform we know today were implemented. To be sure, this is no cosplay. In his redux and remix, he dreamed up nursing wear that may only be seen in luxury rehab centres such as The Kusnacht Practice in Switzerland, rather than one adopted by Florence Nightingale, even off-duty, and certainly no where close to those preferred by the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Theresa’s order.
We are also taken by what may have been worn by patrons of private medical institutions, such as the olive, tulip-shaped top fastened at the collar with a purple ribbon (perhaps to suggest the Purple Heart Medal?) that evokes a more couture sensibility in terms of form and detail (those haphazard stitches on the collar that look like tagging by hand) than what RTW normally allows. Or those cape-like add-ons with puffed-up backs, outshone only by a bumblebee’s abdomen. Just as agreeable are the off-beat layering: shirt under a preppy wool vest and over those a strapless dress that looks like the back side of a skirt!
Not only is Mr Galliano’s narrative compelling, his blending of fabrics, too, is beckoning. A master of mixed media, and in recent years those suggestive of a digital realm, he is able to combine the seemingly disconnected and contrasting textures in one sumptuous whole. Perforated sheers suggesting bullet holes but look more like polka dots go with men’s shirting and suiting fabrics, satins clash with knits but is rounded off with gossamer metallics, and the frail muslin-looking with sturdy woolens, which, together with a quilted coat that seems to mimic the upholstery of the Chesterfield, rather door-stopped the collection from looking obviously spring-like.
Seasons, just as gender, do not, obviously, limit Mr Galliano’s vivid, story-rich imagination. There’s something transformative about the designs of Mr Galliano. He does not only bring us into his reveries, he shows us how wonderful those worlds are too, and how much beautiful possibilities could exist in them, whether we can imagine them or not, all through dressmaking that defies tradition and what is possible with mere cloth. John Galliano may not be a film-maker, but he sure imagines—and regales—like one.
Photos: vogue.com/Filippo Fior/gorunway.com