“What is sexy today?” John Galliano ponders in a new podcast series, launched to coincide with his first Artisanal men’s show for the house. At a time when gender boundaries are in full flux, the question is not as trite as it might at first appear.
It won’t have escaped Galliano’s notice that gender-neutral designers ruled the latest edition of the LVMH Prize. At the prize-giving ceremony earlier this month, men in platform heels and corsets mingled with top executives from the French luxury group.
And when Gucci showed its cruise collection in Arles in late May, one of the models was Harris Reed, the Central Saint Martins student who has shot to fame for designing flamboyant tour outfits for Harry Styles — much to the distress of some of the pop singer’s more conservative fans.
So what do masculinity and femininity mean today? In what was billed as the first haute couture collection for men, Galliano set out to answer the question from the perspective of a master tailor, one who has cracked the bias cutting technique developed by Madeleine Vionnet that is traditionally restricted to women’s designs.
He applied the method not only to satin-backed crepe, a material that naturally lends itself to stretching, but also to more resistant fabrics, like a mossy tweed. Galliano tamed its checked surface into total obedience, so the lines on the lapel were in perfect alignment with those on the jacket.
Such technical feats were easy to overlook as his rail-thin models swaggered through the house’s headquarters in items including glossy second-skin vinyl pants, a shower-curtain trenchcoat or an organza pussy bow blouse. Galliano pushed the bondage theme further by wrapping torsos in layers of sheer tulle, and cinching suit jackets with nude corsets.
In keeping with founder Martin Margiela’s tradition of recycling, he channeled kimono fabrics into a red flower-patterned jumpsuit and a crane-print metallic trenchcoat. At the opposite end of the spectrum, he offered somber tailoring, including a peacoat cut like a cape, or a sweeping double-breasted maxi coat.
Like the two-tone hairstyles of some models — one half natural hair, the other dipped in colored glitter — this was Galliano in split-personality mode: the repentant former club kid, now totally dedicated to his craft. Except, he seemed to be saying, the two aren’t mutually exclusive: Galliano is fascinated with the interns that work at Margiela.
“As much as they’re obsessed with that I do, I’m obsessed with what they’re thinking, so it’s like an ongoing exchange, a dialogue daily,” he said in the podcast. With this made-to-measure collection, which will feed into a coed show in September, the British designer sent a powerful message: come as you are.