John Galliano is beginning to put his mark on Maison Margiela, the label where he has been creative director since 2014. The founder, Martin Margiela, who retired in 2009, gave the designer one piece of advice before the British designer took over: “Make it your own.” Two years in, it looks as if he is taking that advice.
If the house has always centred notions of eccentricity in a kind of minimalism, Galliano is at heart a romantic. Above all else, he uses quirk to tell stories. The autumn/winter 2016 so-called Artisanal collection, shown on the Paris couture schedule on Wednesday morning, demonstrated this. The show notes produced by the house even described it as Galliano’s “most personal interpretation of Maison Margiela’s esprit to date”. The trademark Margiela-isms were there on topsy-turvy designs, such as the opening outfit of an upside-down jacket bunched up around the model’s neck and tied at her waist, or a white pleated gown accessorised with motorcycle jackets worn as water wings. But the show really gained momentum when the Galliano trademarks – often mishmashes of historical characters – came into play.
The show notes described the collection as a “timeless array of commonplace ephemera and things strangely familiar”. This translated to a model in a floorlength coat and a Napoleonic bicorn hat, or another in a toile de jouy printed corset over a silver space-age jacket. An outfit of a long tweed skirt embroidered with feathers, a chunky pullover and a beekeeper’s veil was a bit Vita Sackville-West at Sissinghurst, while the final outfit, a cape of green, white and purple rip-stop nylon and wellies, brought the suffragettes to the catwalk via Glastonbury. The makeup of punky neons and glitter mouths, and hair with birds’ feathers weaved in, only added to the strangely familiar feeling of a dressing-up box, and referenced Galliano’s origins as a club kid in 80s London.
While a couture show such as those by Armani Privé or Versace has one eye on red carpet-worthy glamour for the super rich, the Margiela-by-Galliano take is about clothes as anything-goes art objects. Controversy remains from the 2011 sacking from Dior, but Galliano’s experience producing couture shows for 15 years cannot be questioned.
The work on some of these outfits was striking – particularly a white muslin slipdress with red lace in the image of cherubs constructed from thousands of tiny fragments of lace stitched together. Renzo Rosso, the owner of Margiela, sat front row on Wednesday. He appointed Galliano to his position in 2014, and has said that couture is a priority for the new Margiela. It is a way to pursue ideas that trickle down to ready-to-wear. Speaking to Women’s Wear Daily late last year, Rosso said, “all the rest is coming after couture. So, thanks to John, I started to think and to work differently.”
The figures show that his couture-down approach is working. At the end of 2015, revenues were up 30%.
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