Higher Forces. Maison Margiela AW21 Couture

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 His first historical reference-point was early photographs of Dutch fishermen – the specific traditional lines of their tiny jackets, voluminous trousers, Guernsey sweaters, and wooden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.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

The Row’s Vintage Selection

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?).

Photos via therow.com

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.