John Galliano is at heart a classicist, a couturier who believes in haute as an experimental laboratory for ideas to be realized with more ecumenical — though far from banal — resonance as ready-to-wear. He’s also a diva-loving pop culture enthusiast and now, older and savvier than the pure renegade of his youth, he gets commercial realities.
All of that fused into the intriguing Maison Margiela collection Galliano showed on Wednesday morning. The most obvious reference was to the artisanal couture collection he showed in July that offered a treatise on deconstruction and stripping garments down to their most elemental forms — a process he calls décortiqué.
But first: a blonde, a black sweater, a pair of legs. That Galliano can reference an icon whose image is indelibly embedded in the public psyche and have it fly over people’s heads (at least this reviewer’s) speaks to his non-linear take on that which inspired him. His Marilyn Monroe homage was a way into stage time for items from the Margiela core — good, smart, functional clothes, some, as basic as it gets — a beige suit, a pair of jeans.
In Galliano’s world, basic can beget pure invention. Here, he had his way with the familiar, stripping away structure, recombining pieces and adding offbeat decoration until basic became anything but.
He opened with a fabulous trench — that most familiar of items, yet with sections cut out to create a sensual sweetheart neckline and, more cheekily, windows onto an under layer that looked for all the world like the Burberry check. As written in the show notes, “appearances by wardrobe classics…determine fabric choices.”
Galliano then went on to black-on-nude decompositions of dresses and outerwear. What was once a sturdy coat became an exquisite wool-and-sheer cage over a barely there slip decorated with circular medallions; the bones of a baseball jacket were delineated as a peace sign, minus its exterior circle. (The precision of the graphic could not have been accidental.) Another such jacket, more randomly dissected in red with tan, sleeves topped with what looked like a perfectly straightforward suit.
As for the added-on decoration, he lavished it mostly on outerwear, both polished embroideries and lovely artisanal messes of colorful yarn and string tacked on here and there. Sometimes, he added vibrant color-coordinated snippets to the models’ hair.
Galliano has an eye and a level of skill that allows him to transport the seeming ridiculous into something special. Here, he turned two big, shaggy handbags upside down, plopped them on models’ heads and — voila! They became she-warrior headdresses, each with a silhouette evocative enough to have come from an ancient coin. Remarkable.