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.
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.