As the first images of John Galliano’s debut collection for Maison Martin Margiela begin to hit the wires from London on Monday, the fashion world got a jolt—a spectacularly brash, wildly inventive and ultimately upbeat reminder of the undeniable talent of a prodigal showman.
No one knew quite what to make of this extraordinary pairing of strange bedfellows, between Galliano, one of the greatest design talents of the 20th century, who fell from grace four years ago when he was ousted from Christian Dior after making anti-Semitic remarks in a Paris café, and Margiela, a house known for more avant-garde collections that often defied explanations. And the results, shown in a small couture collection that drew a contingent of designer friends and supporters of Galliano’s rehabilitation, were startling, in ways both absurd and beautiful.
“Wouldn’t you like to have fun, fun, fun?” trilled a soundtrack that included the lyrics of “Big Spender,” perhaps a wry nod to the ultra-wealthy clientele of the couture. “How’s about a few laughs, laughs, laughs?”
Galliano’s departure from fashion following that 2011 episode was inevitable, and so, too, was his return. And although many people, including retailers and longtime clients, may never forgive the designer for his past behavior, with the passing of time, and his expressions of remorse, has come the desire to forgive. Not because Galliano is a great designer, which he is, but because in order to heal, fashion needs to move forward. Some might call Galliano’s splashy return engagement too lighthearted, or too celebratory, judging by the images and plaudits coming at breakneck speed on Instagram and Twitter. At the same time, a somber, too serious collection would have sent the wrong message.
Here’s what I could see from watching the show online: It opened with a series of deconstructed looks, like a jacket, possibly suede or shearling, with its seams and stitches exposed in the tradition the Belgian designer Margiela pioneered over two decades, followed by big babydoll dresses and swing coats that were embroidered with fantastic wheat and floral motifs, and featured clear plastic pockets. A sharp red coat came with the outlines of a face rendered in a rubbery patent texture (pictured, below). Some of the dresses appeared to be winking at us.
The looks were alternately jarring, like a light silk color-block maxi coat shown over denim shorts (also a Margiela touch—to show jeans at couture), and sublime. A long red dress, rendered in a nearly monastic cut, came with a delicate bow on the back of its neatly sliced neckline, a design that was followed by a far more extravagant version of a red gown, its bodice buried under a pile of mirrored embroidery. Margiela, during his prime, often obscured the faces of his models under elaborate wigs or simple netting, and Galliano paid tribute to this tradition with a stylized veil and matching gloves that resembled a Mexican Day of the Dead mask. Some of the finale looks were also shown in their earlier toile formats, as Margiela’s exposing of construction techniques is another house signature.
One obvious change, though, was that Galliano, unlike Margiela, took a bow at the end of the show. He wore the house uniform, a very fitting white lab coat.