c.2015 New York Times News Service

c.2015 New York Times News Service

LONDON — The klieg lights went up on Act III of John Galliano’s career on a rainy Monday here, on the fourth floor of a brand-new eco-sensitive glass and steel office tower just around the corner from New Scotland Yard and behind Buckingham Palace. In case you missed it: new building, new businesslike beginning.

It was the final day of the London Collections: Men. But many attendees had flown in from parts far-flung, buoyed by an anticipation so great it found its own hashtag: #MargielaMonday.

Manolo Blahnik and Christopher Bailey were there; Kate Moss and Jamie Hince, too. Alber Elbaz hopped on the Eurostar, as did colorist Christophe Robin. Nicola Formichetti, Diesel’s creative director, came to lend his support to a stablemate (Diesel and Maison Martin Margiela are both owned by the holding company Only the Brave).

They were holding their breath for the first day of the rest of Galliano’s fashion life: his debut womenswear “Artisanal” (read couture without the couture strings attached) show for Maison Margiela, the Martin dropped in a stealthy branding change. The former Belgian fashion label is now owned by Italian mogul Renzo Rosso, who anointed Galliano its creative director in October, more than three years after the designer was fired as artistic director of Christian Dior because of a drunken anti-Semitic rant — years in which Galliano had gone to rehab, studied Judaism and made Moss’ wedding dress. Among other things.

How much of a difference would those years make? Had the designer moved on aesthetically from his signature history-heavy bias-cut fantasias the way he supposedly had moved on personally? Would the consummate fashion showman pay any attention at all to the identity of a brand built on discretion and irony, or would he ignore it utterly? Would the show be — not good; Galliano is always good — but, more important, relevant?

Beyond the excitement of today, would, or should, anyone care?


This wasn’t a slam-dunk debut of a new vision — not one of those moments that changes the direction of clothes, redefining a silhouette or a mood and making women sit up in recognition and think, “That’s how I want to look now.” It was not a moment that wiped the slate clean with its own power.

It was, rather, more of a slow stretch, a warm-up. You can understand it. Galliano has been on the bench awhile.

Playing on two shared Margiela/Galliano-isms, the de- and reconstructed greatcoat and the man’s suit, so chosen for their literal and metaphorical resonance (“Piece by piece,” went the show notes, Galliano is, “deconstructing and constructing a new story for Margiela”), Galliano sent out a collection in two parts, all to the tune of “Hey, Big Spender.”

First came a series of outerwear-turned-innerwear jackets in black or red, the sleeves turned inside out and hanging down like ribbons or peplumed on the hips, sometimes with one side cut away to reveal fringed and beaded showgirl hot pants and vests or bodysuits; sometimes encrusted with a stream of lacquered three-dimensional found objects: shells and birds and dolls. Similar appendages sprouted like a slightly surreal Easter Island face from an otherwise prim red wool coat and formed the breastplate of the crimson ballgown at the finale, rendered in lace and gold and diamonds like a portable cabinet of curiosities.

There was a generous velvet maxi-dress, monklike and mandarin-collared from the front, the back and sides cut out to show gaping teardrops of flesh; a leopard-print bodysuit under a shredded sheer yarn ankle-length gown; a red trench that faded seamlessly from wool to chiffon. And amid it all came a series of unadorned black silk trouser suits, including a strapless, slightly bubbled dress that was a pair of trousers turned upside down, with the waistband forming the hem (presumably for anyone who thought Galliano could not do simple tailoring, since its couture connection was harder to parse).

And then the whole 24-look parade was reversed, and out came a “shadow” version of the same show, from deconstruction through tailoring through finale, rendered in toiles and canvas, whitewash and whipstitch, “marching in honest testimony of the process, the trials and errors, the time and emotion behind each cut, each line, each vision.” (That bit of haiku narrative is from the show notes.)

It was an effective idea, but the yin-and-yang reveal seemed to speak more to Galliano’s own struggles, his sense of the need to be transparent and, perhaps, acknowledge his personal fallibility, than to any woman who might actually wear them.

The Artisanal collection was originally conceived as a kind of commentary on the stuff of everyday life (plastic hair combs, old scraps of fabric) and the way it is, or is not, valued. By transforming what most people see as junk into beautiful clothes, season after season, the former Maison Martin Margiela forced all viewers to rethink their own assumptions about the worth of the world around them, and the real meaning of banality when imagination comes into play.

Galliano, too, took up the found-object challenge, but instead of looking outward, it seemed, he looked inward: The found objects that were transformed were the tropes of Margiela itself, down to the former designer’s nonbow (which Galliano, clad in the house’s trademark anonymous white lab coat, altered to a now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t appearance at the end of the catwalk); not the world beyond its borders. As a result, the collection itself felt smaller.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing — better, perhaps, for Galliano to tiptoe back onto stage than somersault in through a flaming hoop, given his last implosive exit — but it is a less important thing.

Here’s hoping next season he takes the next step.