Beautiful Drama. Maison Margiela SS21

I’ve always been kind of on fence with John Galliano‘s Maison Margiela. But this season, I’m completely moved by it. Spring-summer 2021 is 100% pure Galliano, the one we love and adore, conveyed through a delightful visual experience. Yes, maybe it has pretty much nothing to do with the well-known image of Margiela (even though the “inside” approach is very Martin), but it’s truly a rare sight to see a brand giving its designer so much creative freedom. When Galliano teased the word magical in a conversation ahead of the reveal of the collection’s film (by the way, if there’s one film of SS21 you’ve got to see, then it’s this one!), he wasn’t overpromising. Epic, explanatory, intimate, and dripping with suspense, it cuts between design sessions and rehearsals in the Maison Margiela studio and the acting out of a gothic South American wedding tragedy, danced out to the strains of the tango. Demonstrating the nitty-gritty of making clothes while showing what they actually are and at the same time conjuring imagined scenes from a designer’s mind is a huge achievement. All the terms that John Galliano has been speaking about passionately for years – “creative process,” “teams,” “themes,” “inspirations,” “techniques” – are suddenly made visible and explicable, brought to life in this fashion-docu-fantasia of a film by Nick Knight. The glee and the seriousness he puts into his work are palpable throughout – as is the effect of the eye-opening participation of the Maison Margiela models on his creative process. Galliano vividly describes the memory of seeing the tango being danced in a dilapidated Buenos Aires warehouse. Then he hires a tango teacher, and the performances of the models, the way they move, actively start to shape the clothes. One thing leads to another, and soon it’s turned into a full-ensemble wedding scenario, with bride and groom and guests dancing toward a doomed, underwater destiny. The fevered action runs with a mysterious spoken script, written by Kier-La Janisse. But we also see Galliano methodically dissecting the gauze wedding dresses, the 1940s suits, the tailored coats and bias-cut silk skirts. We see how each section fits into the numbered Maison Margiela lines. Understand, in detail, how the Recicla upcycled pieces are made into composite garments, and how each of these one-offs are “stringently tested,” ensuring that the materials meet safety standards for sale. Watch the expert skill Galliano applies to cutting away jacket shoulders and inserting tango-shirt frills into slits in classic coats. Interspersed is footage of the manufacturing processes: the screen-printing of the wet-look patches on suits; how traditionally loomed Venetian brocades are made into the dancers’ mary jane shoes; the combination of laser-cut leather and hand-finishing behind the making of bags. None of this could ever have been laid out in a runway show. It makes for a multilayered piece, capturing the drama and the depth of the collaborative work at Maison Margiela, for millions of online viewings and endless commentary and analysis. And the best thing? It’s not an event which is over and done with in the standard 20 minutes it takes for models to file out from behind a white screen, and back again. “Yes,” Galliano  mused, “You can put your feet up, have a cup of tea, and watch it anytime.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Restorative. Maison Margiela AW20

Rember John Galliano‘s recent Maison Margiela couture collection? It was all about creating beauty out of upcycling. For autumn-winter 2020, the designer continued that concept, with joyful effects. “Restorative!” Galliano declaimed. “The idea of giving something a new life… kick-starting a new consciousness.” These were some of the resoundingly enthusiastic phrases Galliano poured into ears via the post-show podcast he’s started to release in lieu of backstage interviews. “Recicla! Retch-ee-cla!” he cried. “The joy, the joy that we will be able to sell these pieces among the rest of the collection just thrills me.” The collection was beautiful to look at: his mastership in cutting up and re-sectioning of “bourgeois” classics is just insanely good. Galliano has talked of wanting to retrieve and hold onto the fragments of meaning that remain in the fading memories of the 20th-century wardrobe. The finale dress, a delicate thing made from laser-stamped lavender chiffon, was the “ghost” of a 1920s flapper dress floating back from a century ago. This season, Galliano also reopens “Replica” reeditions of vintage clothing that Martin Margiela originated at the house, making sure to print the date of provenance on the label. Galliano’s purpose in studying vintage pieces is different, though: he lops and excavates structures to discover new forms, often “freeze-framing” work in progress. And so, with this collection, “instead of slavishly copying” he decided that studio-reworked charity shop finds deserve to be sold as they are. “Now I’m feeling a little braver,” he said. “The idea is that this voyage of discovery supports this feeling of being inventive with a conscience.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Haute Upcycling. Maison Margiela Couture SS20

Upcycling the heritage of the craft to make something for the present that is beautifully creative: John Galliano tackled the challenge of our times with his glorious Maison Margiela haute couture collection. For a designer who began his career with a graduation collection about the French Revolution in a time when young people in London were chopping up vintage clothes from markets, this was almost a reclamation of all of Galliano’s first principles, elevated and reenergized amid the 21st-century youth rebellion against waste and overconsumption. Most of the collection was made from materials that already exist: “memories” of bourgeois classics, recut, turned inside out, dissected, collaged, and punched through in a riot of color. Galliano spoke in a house podcast about how he and his studio team had sat and decided “there are too many clothes in the world.” He reflected on the rise of the bourgeoisie and capitalism after the 19th-century Industrial Revolution. Next thing his assistants were out scouring thrift shops for materials to work into the collection. Haute upcycling is not just possible; it can look refined, intriguing, incredible. For instance, bedsheets were repurposed as evening capes, a delicate elegance found in wisps of pink and apricot chiffon draped and taped in place as in a spontaneous Madame Grès–like moment. The attitude of a girl in an emerald 1950s ball gown veiled with a black tulle cape seemed to symbolize it all. Striding forward in an echo of an Old World couture pose, she held one arm elbow out, her yellow-gloved hand in a fist. Cut, mix, create, amaze.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

The 2010s / Galliano’s Future at Maison Margiela

Maison Margiela AW18 Couture by John Galliano

Believe it or not – I can’t! – but we’re heading towards a new millenium. So, how do you choose the most important collections, designers and labels of the decade? The ones that made an actual impact in the 2010s? Well, it’s not an easy task. It all began in September 2009 with New York’s spring-summer 2010 shows and ended when the autumn-winter 2019 haute couture shows wrapped in Paris. Few thousands of shows, by the way. There will be 19 posts (that’s really the only possible minimum!) reminding about the best – and if not the best, then strongly influencing – moments in fashion.

John Galliano‘s vision of the future at Maison Margiela.

Maybe I wasn’t a total fan of every Maison Margiela collection under John Galliano, but one thing is sure: the designer’s vision for the brand is always thought-provoking. Moreover, just a couple of days ago, it was announched that after five years as creative director of the label, John has extended his contract. Galliano joined Maison Margiela in 2014, taking over the brand’s womenswear, menswear, accessories and Artisanal couture collection. Under his tenure, the revenues have even doubled (which is positively surprising!). John’s talent is matched by his understanding of today’s generations: its ways of thinking, struggles and dreams. And he is doing exactly what the label always did at its best: disrupt, innovate, and inspire. One of my favourite collections is the autumn-winter 2018 couture line-up. Collections like this make you believe in fashion again. Maison Margiela‘s Artisanal line is an outlet for Galliano‘s wildest ideas, which seems to let him explore his most dynamic ideas with the unlimited freedom. But when you listened to John speaking about the collection, you suddenly undertood it’s not just a mega-artist’s next epic fantasy. There’s a seed of reality in those multi-layered garments packed with utilitarian textiles, protective pillow-y elements and extreme colours. “We’re all nomads today. . . we do move in tribes.” That nomadic glamour, the term he coined after the show, refers to the contemporary state of things. On the daily basis, we absorb so much information through different, constantly booming media. At the end of the day, we want comfort – but is it even possible in today’s world? Rather, we need shelter or an armour – which can be constructed from tulle, felt wool or some sponge-y material, just as Galliano predicts. Even though we already exist in the hi-tech world, the vision of iPhones and iPads sticking out of our bodies like some kind of exoskeleton feels rather dystopian on the other note. But then, if the future will bring the humanity to “neo-digital natives”, as the designer called it, then at least our wardrobes won’t disappoint with boldness.

All collages by Edward Kanarecki.

The Importance of History. Maison Margiela SS20

At Maison Margiela, John Galliano once again reflects on the digital age, with an exploration of hope, heroines and liberation in the face of “the chaotic noise of the social media debris“. Also, this was one of the most deep collections in a while coming under the Margiela label. Galliano is British, and Brexit is a topic that moves him personally. One of the slogans frequently voiced by the right is that British independence is “what we fought for in the war” – a false, trigger phrase which ignores the fact that the fight was against the forces of fascism in Europe. His spring-summer 2020 collection was a timely salute to the ordinary young men and women – the nurses and airmen, the army and navy boys – who stepped up to win the victory against Nazism in alliance with the French Resistance in occupied France. “Reverence for the lessons of history and what they taught us,” read a thought line in his press release. “Stories of hope, heroines, and liberation are forgotten as history draws ever closer to repetition.”  This couldn’t be put together in a better way, really. First look: a navy cape, white hospital sleeves, and a gray serge pencil skirt. Second, a model in a black dress with a veiled hat trimmed with a feather, inspired by the the 1930s or 1940s (probably a nod to the Frenchwomen of the Resistance who went about their undercover work carrying secrets and explosives in their). Galliano as well turned to exploring uniform – of course in his non-chalant, experimental manner. Other than a traditional white mackintosh coat or eclectic jewellery made out of military stripes, pins and medals, there is plenty to be proud of in heritage, Galliano seemed to be saying in this collection, but that as well  includes the right to freedom of self-expression, (inclusive of defending the LGBTQ+ rights that have been enshrined and respected by law since Europe has been united – well, mostly everywhere). However, please note that the collection wasn’t heavy with history; it wasn’t all serious and solemn. It was fun and dramatic; it was a celebration of male eroticism with a clubbing twist (have you seen Leon Dame’s finale walk?); it felt spontaneous, even though it wasn’t.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.