by Felicia Scicluna
Renzo Russo’s effort in putting Margiela on the fashion map is really quite admirable. Two years after the collaboration with H&M, Only The Brave (the fashion conglomerate that owns Margiela) selected John Galliano as the creative director for the house. Of course, the fashion press was relieved to hear that the so called king of fashion was back at work, yet again it was followed by uncertainty and confusion. How can a brand that is known for minimalism and ambiguity take John Galliano as its creative director, a man known for spectacular runway shows and flamboyant designs? The pairing seemed odd, very odd indeed. Is this just a marriage of convenience for two design giants and can Galliano manage to bring new life into an already successful brand without overpowering?
The Galliano-Margiela contingencies, both known for bucking convention, decided to defy norms and show the much anticipated artisanal couture collection in London. Twenty-four looks were presented in a brand new office block in Victoria to 180 guests. The mood was somewhat clinical and corporate, very different from what we are used to see in Galliano.
The collection was a safe mixture of Galliano extravagance with Margiela codes. As much as these two seem a dysfunctional pairing, some of the principles seemed to overlap. Galliano’s use of part-finished dresses, toiles and the idea of the work in process (which opened his couture collection for Dior A/W 2005) and Margiela’s stockman waistcoats, seem to be referenced in the opening look of the show. The whole idea of the process of haute couture is clearly seen throughout the collection, especially during the finale when 24 black and white toiles emerged from the other side of the runway.
Feelings about this collection are still a bit muddled. Some love it, while others feel disappointed. Some even called it just a pastiche of the old Galliano trademarks on the Margiela codes. This can all boil down to how you look at it. After 22 years designing at his own brand and 15 designing at Dior simultaneously, we seem to have acquired Dior-tinted glasses which shape our judgement and opinions of this Margiela collection. When for nearly two decades you have a designer who was so ingrained in such a big brand like Dior, it is difficult to separate the designer from the mother brand. This is especially true when his designs for Dior couture were an embodiment of over-the-top extravagance, flamboyance and have been staged in some of the biggest and most important venues in Paris; a far cry from last week’s show.
Contrary to what we are used to, Galliano emerged at the end of the collection in a white lab coat, signature to the Margiela staff. This was hailed as a very wise move for Galliano as we are used to him emerging at the end of the collection in a show stopping outfit tied into the collection itself. Following his dismissal from Dior and his own brand due to his anti-Semitic remarks, Galliano was interviewed by Charlie Rose who showed him a montage of his own bows at the end of Dior fashion shows. Galliano remarked how he saw joy yet trouble in that montage and followed with describing the pressure that he felt while designing for both brands. Perhaps the adoption of the Margiela ‘uniform’ is a way for him to be more removed from the industry and avoid the spotlight which infamously offered him joy, yet also, trouble.
What these bows also represented was the conclusion to the story that he presented on the runway through the clothes. This narrative, so distinctive a trademark for Galliano, is ironically and cruelly what many have criticised Margiela for, as it failed to deliver in continuity. But then again, this takes time to develop. Galliano has much to contend with, including finding his place within the brand and readjusting himself to the present fashion climate which has changed distinctively since he stopped designing.
After all the controversy and speculations, Margiela might be the perfect brand for Galliano. It can offer him a place to explore his ideas within the confinement of Margiela but without the craziness and the stress of two huge brands. Maybe some anonymity and pairing down is what Galliano needs in order to really re-establish himself in the industry. I believe that this collection was the first step to what will be a very interesting era in fashion.