The result is no ordinary handbag campaign: The collaboration with Knight’s Showstudio has resulted in a 360-degree film shot in negative image that will be screened on Saturday and Sunday at the Serpentine Gallery in London.
Even the standard two-dimensional version ranks as an immersive experience, consisting of footage drenched in psychedelic hues of model Duckie Thot in a series of science fiction-inspired sets. A soundtrack by DJ Jeremy Healy, another longtime Galliano collaborator, features lyrics from Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams.”
“John and I have had an artistic relationship, a shared admiration, a love for each other, which has gone on for over 30 years,” Knight told WWD in an interview, noting that he first met the designer on a photo shoot for i-D magazine in 1985 and has created campaigns and editorial images with him ever since. “When we went through the Dior years together, I was there for 10 years with him and since then, I’ve been waiting for a way to come back and work with John again. His directorship of Margiela became a way of inventing another language.
“I knew Martin Margiela right back in the early Nineties, and I respected the brand, and am enormously in love with the brand, and when John went there, it was very interesting to see how he changed it,” Knight added.
Since taking over as creative director of Margiela in 2014, Galliano has put his own spin on the codes of subversion and deconstruction introduced by the label’s reclusive founder, using his couture collections as laboratories for radical experiments with cut and materials.
The short film, titled “Reality Inverse,” was inspired by Galliano’s spring 2018 Artisanal line, in which he used reflective materials that looked black in real life, but under the light of a camera flash reflected holographic colors visible only on-screen.
“I was so excited by his use of optics,” said Knight, who has used a similar reflective material in his own work. “Here’s something, you put a light on it, it radically changes how it looks. So therefore, how can we take that further?”
The opportunity arose with the launch of the Glam Slam, also in spring 2018, as part of a wider accessories push at the house, which is owned by Italian entrepreneur Renzo Rosso’s OTB group. Riccardo Bellini, chief executive officer of Maison Margiela, said the house wished to make a distinctive digital statement.
“The creative collaboration with Nick Knight is particularly important because it exemplifies our ambition to explore and propose a new and innovative communication language for Maison Margiela,” he said. “Taking the new creative codes established by Mr. Galliano for the house and applying them to our digital experiences has allowed us to redefine the normative codes of our visual communication language and align it with the pioneering and disruptive ethos of the maison.”
The Glam Slam, which was born out of Galliano’s concept of relaxed glamour, is now available in nine styles for women and two for men. According to the house, it’s gaining popularity in Japan and other Asian markets, as well as traditional luxury strongholds such as France and Italy.
“Today, accessories, and bags in particular, are a strong pillar of our brand strategy, with an overall business that has doubled in the past 12 months. This is the result of a concerted rollout of our strategic business development plan, which has seen a very positive growth acceleration across all product categories, with a total business increase of over 30 percent over last year,” Bellini said.
Knight said that having developed a creative shorthand with Galliano over the years helped with developing the concept of the film. “This is essentially a film based on a bag, but it’s a bag that I know the story of: a bag that looks like a pillow, and looks like a cloud. I know the whole concept behind John’s idea of a sort of instantaneous glamour, and how that fits into his life and how he would see it fitting into other people’s lives,” he said.
Knight set a control on his camera so that images already appeared negative, or inverted, through the monitor, setting him free in what he described as a “candy-coated world” that generated new emotional responses.
“Making that rather large step into a world where the colors are different from the colors we see every day, and things do not behave visually the same way, was very refreshing,” he said. “When you look through a lens and you see those colors, and you see a girl with a beautiful moss-green face and blue hair, it’s like being a sort of Walt Disney.”
Knight lamented that photography isn’t always as daring as it could be. “There’s been a banality that has entered a lot of fashion imagery, which I think is a great shame, because fashion magazines are created to make people dream,” he explained. “They’ve got altogether far too caught up with their advertisers and with a sort of commercial banality to try and make more and more magazines sell as the end reason to do anything, and I’m very suspicious of any artistic endeavor which is really solely based on creating more money for somebody. Imagery — fashion imagery especially — should be for the pleasure of the love of fashion, and for the pleasure of creating imagery which is going to stimulate people’s minds,” he argued.
Though the film was shot a while ago, it couldn’t be more pertinent to Galliano’s current obsessions. “The overstimulation of computer-generated imagery alters reality and degenerates the truth. Chaotic and unsettling, it is a confusion of the senses rooted in an oversatiation that inevitably overspills,” he said in his latest show notes in January.
If that sounds a little ominous, Galliano and Knight have clearly found a creative wellspring in the digital revolution. “I don’t feel threatened by the future. We’re an incredibly resourceful and amazing brilliant species, and all the new things that are starting to happen couldn’t be better,” said Knight.
“I’m thrilled that people have access to their own media platforms. I’m thrilled that people do not have to ask the BBC or Columbia Pictures or Condé Nast to be allowed to publish a picture of themselves. That’s democracy and image-making,” said the photographer, noting that he does nearly all of his casting now on Instagram.
“Whether it’s a hairdresser, an illustrator or whether it’s a model, I find them through Instagram. I’m very pro the future. We’re literally launching a project on AI at the moment here. I’m trying to propose that actually, we need to look at AI being creative,” he explained.
Visitors to the Serpentine Gallery, and selected Maison Margiela stores through the spring season, will be able to watch the 360-degree version of the film through Oculus glasses while sitting on swivel chairs.
Shooting the surround images presented several challenges — not least the fact that the director and crew can’t be present on set, as they would appear in the film. Knight also had to figure out ways to give the viewer subtle cues to catch the action unfolding around them.
“It’s all very different from anything I’ve done before. This is a long way away from a magazine page and a long way away from a billboard, but increasingly where people are going. I think the video game world is the biggest entertainment — way bigger than music, way bigger than sport. The video game is a massive world, so that’s where a lot of people are living out their fantasies. We should be engaging with them,” he concluded.