The world became a sadder place without the Dame and the Queen of punk, Vivienne Westwood, who passed away just a couple of days before the New Year. Who else could create a more authentic and vivid tribute to Westwood’s work – and the entire subculture she helped create and kept leading – than John Galliano? His co-ed autumn-winter 2023 collection for Maison Margiela, one of the best ready-to-wear collections he’s done for the brand in a while, makes you believe punk isn’t dead. Galliano brought up the term ‘Rorschach test’ for the subjective seeing of different things when we look at fashion. Through these eyes, it looked very like a fierce, urgent reveling in the subcultural spirit of the 1970s and early ’80s in London – Galliano’s youth, but brought forward, mashed up for today. “You might see some familiar figures in it,” he suggested. “Jordan on the King’s Road; the fishnets; Johnny Rotten, maybe.” He’d sent out crude collaged photocopied flyers with his invitations – like fanzines and invites to underground gigs, the way kids navigated nightlife long before mobile phones. A couple of models were clutching them with their handbags as they lurched down the runway, as if in a hurry to get somewhere. In some of their hats, fancifully collaged from trash bags and scraps of tulle, were cockades made from chopped-up flyers. The plaids didn’t look like punk tartan – Westwood’s eternally favorite fabric—but then again, it almost did. And, to these eyes at least, there she was, almost personified in the girls who were dashing along in Galliano’s ingeniously wrapped pencil skirts – the sexy ’50s rocker style that Vivienne always spoke about as the first clothes she loved making for herself as a teenager. If that really was a salute to the late designer, it was also mixed up in the layers and layers of Galliano’s spins on 1950s tulle ballgowns, his huge, swinging opera coats, and chopped-up Americana. There were also Western-type jackets with Mickey Mouse plackets, Hawaiian prints, all seen through a punk, D-I-Y filter. Beautiful and emotionally moving.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki. Don’t forget to follow Design & Culture by Ed on Instagram!
The festive time lets you look back at some fashion history in a relaxed, pleasurable way. After all the food, gift unwrapping, Christmas table talks and re-watches of both “Home Alone” films, I indulged myself in the beauty of John Galliano archives. And one of his pre-establishment collections just felt so right in this moment. Galliano’s autumn-winter 1995 “Dolores” collection marks a pivotal moment. It was essentially his last as an indie designer. About four months after this presentation, Galliano was named the creative director of Givenchy; a year later he transferred to Christian Dior and his namesake brand was acquired by LVMH. The Dolores of the show title was the actor Dolores del Rio. The invitation to the presentation consisted of pages from the heroine’s “tortured correspondence from the Rose of Alhambra hotel to her lover, Jaime, aboard the ocean liner Berengaria, along with a lock of hair and a broken locket,” reported The New York Times. Arriving at the venue, guests were ushered onto a snow-covered rooftop set littered with scows and populated by burly sailors. One of them, the report continued, “with bare feet and red manicured toes leaned against a chimney reading a book called Killer in Drag.” Perhaps most exuberant were the flamenco dresses, which allowed Galliano, who was born in Gibraltar, to iterate on his own heritage. There were ruffled numbers cut on the bias in shades of lavender and fuchsia, and peinetas (hair combs) took the place of tiaras. The Catholic imagination was also at work. A model in a whisper-light dress of virginal white carried a rosary and was followed by a shipmate wearing an ersatz crown made of prayer cards. Wearing a silk fuchsia number with a tulle bolero, Kate Moss kissed Johnny Depp seating in the front row. Another real love story of this collection was that between a man and his scissors. Galliano romanced the cloth with a technical savoir faire that was awe-inspiring. The carnation dress worn by Carla Bruni was not only cut on the bias but seamless, thanks to the floral inserts. One of these dresses is in the collection of The Met’s Costume Institute, and the catalog description notes that Galliano used the carnation “as a symbol of undying love.” What more is there to say?
Collage by Edward Kanarecki. Don’t forget to follow Design & Culture by Ed on Instagram!
John Galliano delivered one of the most brilliant couture collections of the season. Prompted by his enjoyment of communicating through various digital hybrids during the pandemic, the designer balked at the prospect of returning to the old stripped-down white runway format for his Maison Margiela Artisanal collection. To him, it’s an inadequate arena for expressing the intense, allusive narratives which have always fueled his creativity. An epiphany came when he saw a stage production of Dracula by the British theatre company Imitating the Dog, who in the words of its director, “stitch together” videos of actors in real time. “I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful to embrace fashion, theater, digital – all the cultures?” The producers collaborated with him to realize Cinema Inferno, the multidisciplinary fantastically-costumed American psycho-drama of dreams and nightmares that played out on stage, screens, and livestream from the Palais de Chaillot. Galliano’s model muses – the talented cast who’ve worked with him throughout the pandemic – plus a few grand supermodels lip-synced to a script following the misfortunes of a desperate pair of young lovers on the run. “They’re Hen and Count, driving through this mythical Arizona desert. They’re shot up,” Galliano narrated. “Then, we have what we call ‘spectral cowboys’ who come to assail them. Representatives of abuse of power, whether it’s the judge, the preacher, medicine, certain toxic relationships, patriarchal societies, and on and on.” In a preview at the theater, astonishing clothes were laid out waiting to embody the bloody, romantic tale in fragile whooshes of pastel tulle, brutally-cut tailoring, and twisted takes on 1950s haute couture and prom-scene Americana. The bad men – who came bristling with guns – had sandstorm-weathered coats whose shadowy, creviced surfaces were created with micro-beading, dégradé jacquard, and flocking. “Because this,” said Galliano, “is haute couture. The highest form of dressmaking!” Unfortunately, the collection’s look-book features only 9 looks – so you are more than welcome to watch the full performance to catch a glimpse of these wearable artworks.
Of course, Galliano has known his way around the highest form of dressmaking since his time at Christian Dior – and even before. Since the days of his eponymous collection, ideas revolving around characters from the 1920s to the ’50s have populated his collections, and the deconstruction and reconstruction of period clothing. So this was in every sense, a show set in Galliano’s mental landscape. This time, though, there was an inescapably darker haunting of trauma and violence behind the stunning sequences of clothes – of nurse’s coats in the mint-greens of hospital scrubs, the watermelon pouffes of the evil mother’s gown, the diaphanous trapeze dresses and abstracted prom dresses constructed from several gowns sewn together. Why choose this time to delve into an American narrative? Superficially, it was about the movies: “Films that have had a huge impact on the man I am today. A Streetcar Named Desire, Natural Born Killers, Suddenly Last Summer.” But beneath that runs a more personal thread. It’s no coincidence that Arizona, where the performance was notionally set, is the state where Galliano underwent rehab in 2011. It’s the place where he faced his demons. Did that make these recurring nightmares swirling around sin, sex, death, and parental and societal abuse subconsciously autobiographical? Galliano nodded. At the end of the show there was a smashed ‘black mirror’ dress, a symbolic reflection of the psychological impossibility of fully escaping memory – even in ‘recovery’ – if ever there was one. “Because, as you see in the show, our protagonists keep falling into these dreams. The whole thing is based on a loop. An endless loop.” There is much more of this self-revelation to come next year when a documentary about Galliano, made by director Kevin Macdonald, will premiere. Galliano says it’s been “like going to confession.”
“The idea of how we all felt through this pandemic, and being brought to our knees by the power of mother nature.” That’s a succinct clip from a long conversation with John Galliano about the making of his Maison Margiela Arstisanal collection, which he scripted into the epic film, A Folk Horror Tale, that had its premiere in a Paris cinema this week. The comment seemed emblematic. A romantic, mysteriously troubling struggle with the elements was on Galliano’s mind as he designed and crafted clothes and moving pictures with the French Oscar-winning director-producer Olivier Dahan. “The effect of the weather, the sea, the moon, the elements, started to play on my psychology.” Galliano has been a story-teller, a stream-of-consciousness creator since his very beginnings as a student who made his first historically-inspired French Revolution collection, Les Incroyables, in 1984. Images and self-imagined characters who connect the past with the present have stimulated and preoccupied him for his entire career. In 2021, finally, he’s seized the opportunity to bring those ideas alive through a medium that reaches far beyond the limitations of the catwalk formula. Even the lookbook of his collection breaks with standard conventions. In what is probably the most personal of all the collections he has done for the hand-made Artisanal line – the house equivalent of haute couture – it’s a triumph of emotionally-driven material experimentation. He said it “came out of hours and hours of dialogue” in his studio, giving form to the conversations with the young group of house models – his ‘Muses’ – who take part in his process of making clothes on their bodies; and who eventually act out their meaning.
That’s how he reached into a gothic, time-traveling manifestation of weather-beaten, tattered, ancient-looking clothes set around the idea of an isolated community of fisher-people battling for survival against the sea. His first historical reference-point was early photographs of Dutch fishermen – the specific traditional lines of their tiny jackets, voluminous trousers, Guernsey sweaters, and wooden clogs. Another, the legend of King Canute, whose people forced him to command the tide to retreat, and who surrendered them his crown when he failed; saying that only God is in charge. A smashed-mirror crown played a recurring part, found and refound in scenes conjuring a sinister medieval ritual playing over centuries. The idea of people living at the mercy of uncontrollable forces tuned into the conversations he’d been having with the young people in his studio: “Talking about mental health issues, trans issues around the table with my muses, listening to some of them describe how they were feeling and acting,” during the troubles of lockdown. He has empathy for them. “I don’t profess to be a therapist, but I’ve done some hardcore rehab myself, and I recognize myself and a lot of what they’re saying or doing. And all I was saying was, you know, the best thing is to talk about it.” As an older and wiser person, he said, “there was a privilege and a joy in sharing.” As he put it in his introduction to the film, “it’s about the fast-wash of anxiety, the power of nature – and when faced with that, how helpless we are.” That idea took literal form in the way he processed his fabrics, treating them with enzyme washes and stone-washing to remove color; shrinking and wringing them out in a technique he calls “Essorage.” In many ways, his methodology appears to be the complete opposite of the traditional formalities of haute couture, but represents his break away into an equally intense study of how clothing can be transformed from vintage and found materials in the modern world. He described how garments were graded up six or 12 times, and then shrunk to fit. How linings of skirts and suits were turned inside out and converted into dresses. How he attacked denim jackets and loden coats and a 19th century woman’s corset jacket, unpicking and revealing their original colors in the seams when the washing and wringing was done. There was a beautiful sweeping blue-and-white patchworked coat made from chopped-up charity-shop finds. Delft tile-patterns were crocheted together in a sweater. The artist Celia Pym darned a blue Guernsey with newspaper reports of the death of King George V.
Galliano is always pushing for progress, experimentation. Nevetherless, with their little cotton Netherlandish hats and kerchiefs, their tabi-clog waders, and their romantic, shredded piratical looks, the Margiela Muses looked more purely Galliano than they have done for many a year. “The narrative of the story is make- believe,” he said, “which is always what I want with a collection, anyway.” With so much at his fingertips it’s almost as if John Galliano has gone back to rediscover the primal power of who he always was from the beginning.
It’s no news that vintage is taking over the fashion industry. Sites like Vestiaire Collective and The Real Real are growing competitors for the big on-line empires like Net-A-Porter or Farfetch, while vintage Westwoods and Muglers are historically (and aesthetically) worth more than any trendy, “new season” arrival. Even some brands are opening up to the possibilities of vintage. Dries Van Noten’s Los Angeles store has an expansive section of the label’s archives, all available to buy. And now, The Row is the latest to join the conversation with their newly opened, on-line “Galerie“. I’m pretty much sure that those are Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen‘s personal treasures: an Issey Miyake trench coat from 1979, Chanel haute couture navy total-look from the 70s, John Galliano’s black kimono dress from his iconic spring-summer 1995 collection, some Comme Des Garçons singular items from the 80s and 90s… all items are upon request, but I guess they won’t sit there for long. Hope the Olsens are planning to update their vintage selection from time to time with new, unique garments! Oh… and just imagine wearing those gems with The Row’s investment pieces (maybe even from the second hand?).