“Create the rules. Then break them.” So advises Willow Smith in the campaign video for Maison Margiela’s new fragrance, Mutiny. In a case of synergistic marketing, John Galliano screened the video across three walls as a prelude to his show, and projected it post-show on a giant screen outside the Grand Palais, just in time for that exiting Instagram moment. The campaign features six young women speaking to the camera on points of personal interest with greater cultural resonance, two of them, models Hanne Gaby Odiele and Teddy Quinlivan, focusing on gender issues.
So did Galliano, in a gutsy collection that pushed the limits of a “Coed” — the name of the show — runway beyond conventional notions of his-and-hers, as he played into the Mutiny motif with a deep dive into the topic of gender fluidity. And if those less enlightened on (and perhaps still not fully fluid-comfortable) saw boys in dresses for much of the show, Galliano insists that wasn’t the point. “I’m not trying to make girls look like boys or boys look like girls.…The idea is to try and incorporate the very concept of transformation into cutting,” he says in the latest installment of his podcast, “The Memory of…”
Truth be told, Galliano mutinied long ago, over and over, overthrowing old orders of propriety and expectation, along the way garnering both praise and vilification. Today, with the concept of gender fluidity front-and-center of mainstream cultural awareness (if not yet full-on acceptance), a bandwagon is driving full-speed through fashion. Galliano didn’t buy a ticket; he didn’t have to. (For one long-ago show for the eponymous collection he then designed, Galliano created a delightful motley cast. The spectacle awed his audience, including Joe Zee, then an editor at W Magazine. “I wonder,” Zee mused post-show, “who says, ‘Let’s put a saucepan on the head of the boy in a dress?’”)
No saucepans here (though the occasional see-through helmet). Rather, an exploration of a theme Galliano is crediting the Gen Z generation with addressing, but for which he has cared passionately all along. Yet first and foremost, Galliano is a designer, one of the best ever. For spring, he brilliantly channeled his culture-crusade ruminations into the clothes. Breaking rules? Galliano opened with a pair of chic gray looks that drew pretty direct lines to mid-century couture. Only he did his thing with them: herringbone skirt worn as a cape, with multiple slashes and slits playing into his “memory of” concept, here the memory of a jacket; the other look, a cavalry twill skirt, cut into a sac-like top over matching feather-trimmed skirt. For airy dresses, he combined two slips into one, and bonded sheer lace to georgette over silvery hologram pants. Construction was referenced in “memory of party dresses” — frothy satin, brocade and embroidered bodices — worn variously over a mannish jacket (forgive the gender specificity) and latex legs or alone atop skinny black pants. Jackets and tops recalled swimwear; plasticized tile skirts were layered onto tulle dresses. It was all conceived with emotion and executed with the utmost clinical supremacy. And for all the machinations of Galliano’s memory and decortique tropes, the clothes were wondrously desirable. Worth special mention: the coats, including a divine bubblegum pink Mackintosh trench.
Some of it was worn by women, some by men in a big mash-up and smash-up of standards and conventions. What Galliano didn’t disrupt: his core belief in the sanctity of fashion. His mutiny offered a bounty.