“Couture pack” — an elite oxymoron, a short list of designers and maisons recognized by the Federation de la Haute Couture to create the world’s toniest fashion, haute couture. Most showed last week, in short films which, viewed in rapid successions during the three-day “couture week,” turned repetitive very fast.
Perhaps it was wise for two leaders of the pack, Maison Margiela’s John Galliano and Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli, to break away and present on their own schedules, and thus be viewed by a fresh-eyed audience. (That suggestion is made with reservation; if all fashion brands, or even all majors, start showing on their own schedules it will cause massive confusion and unhappy mayhem.) Another similarity between Galliano and Piccioli: Both couturiers enlisted photographer/director/digital guru Nick Knight to do the digital honors. Piccioli will show his couture next week in Rome, in a hybrid live/digital event.
Galliano’s couture film premiered online today. Unlike last week’s ventures, the longest of which clocked in at about 12 minutes, this is a full 50 minutes in which he and Knight, two artists of their genres, collaborated to superb effect. The film, which the house calls “a thriller,” radiates mutual passion project, just as the name indicates. The acronym “SWALK” — “sealed with a loving kiss” — was co-opted from a postal line attributed to World War II servicemen writing love letters home.
Knight exhibited his skills as documentarian and digital artist in integrating footage of the atelier at work and of its glorious output. Necessitated by the COVID-19 moment, he took a multifaceted approach to compiling footage. Some parts focusing on process were shot by staffers on laptops, some, by drones and thermal cameras.
Unsurprisingly, the clothes are glorious, Galliano at his provocative, audacious best. We see his circular cuts and upcycled, vintage “Recicla” in various stages of creation. While he talks about the “new couture,” Galliano offers an old-school definition, that couture is not just for dressing the rich, but that it fuels the house’s ready-to-wear offerings.
The film is riveting for what resonates, and what doesn’t. Among major designers at least, Galliano has pioneered the concept of genderless casting. Here, he reminds that he fits his clothes on male models. But that’s where the topic begins and ends. In ample footage, the takeaway is of a skilled model in said fittings, nothing more or less.
Galliano’s inspiration flows between classical references, both original and as interpreted by others in the early 20th century (Vaslav Nijinsky; Gladys Deacon, the Duchess of Marlborough, a great beauty of the Belle Epoque, as painted by Boldini) and The Blitz Kids, the generation of young creatives — himself among them — who populated the Blitz nightclub circa 1980, giving rise to the New Romantic movement. To the former point, Galliano acknowledges “referencing myself,” specifically his 1986 Fallen Angels collection. That collection was shown wet. Here, he sought to replicate the wet look of graceful goddess fare clinging to the body without actually hosing down his models. Done, and masterfully so. Those languid beauties contrast with Galliano’s tailoring. Late in the film, voluptuous coat silhouettes recall the designer’s infamous homeless couture for Dior, though he doesn’t make that connection.
“SWALK” ends on a sensual dance sequence. Knight has added filters that distort, fade and, briefly, intensify colors, so that the takeaway is exquisite form and motion. It mesmerizes.