Like most non-Millennials, John Galliano is intrigued and unsettled by the extent to which social media has upended traditional methods of communication. “All these advancements, I just wonder if we are all at the moment genetically prepared to absorb so much information,” he said, miming a person engrossed in a relationship with his phone, oblivious to the people nearby. Then, as himself: “I’m grateful to know how important it is to live in the present.”
Unlike almost everyone regardless of generation, Galliano can channel his thoughts on the subject into a work of creative brilliance. That’s what he did on Wednesday in his spring artisanal collection for Maison Margiela.
Galliano spoke before the show, his tone more conflicted than critical. He is, after all, a social media participant himself, particularly Instagram. (Surprise!) One aspect of his interest: social media’s impact on visual communication, specifically the app filters that can be layered onto photos, ultimately altering reality. As he has done so often with disparate cultural phenomena, he translated that into his own kind of applications — high-skill haute-worthy techniques. Here, he appropriated the filter concept for big, bold-faced graphics and in his use with fabrics, layering unlike pieces — wool, point d’esprit, lace — “like a mille-feuille,” he said. He then cut way at the various layers to create surface depth, texture, mystery.
Stripping away, the slicing, dicing, deconstruction and reconstruction, are renowned Galliano tropes. So are his vast historical knowledge and deep emotion. Here, he worked a new process he calls décortiqué, removing blocks of fabric until an item was reduced to its essential frame. The idea he said, was to get at the core of a garment, “a memory of it.” He applied this with madcap exuberance (the remains of a big mannish coat forming a grid over unruly clouds of white broderie anglaise, lace and satin all bunched, poufed and tricked out with embroidery) and minimalist might — a slipdress reduced to strategic bands of satin-back crepe over nude base.
This dress triggered a memory, while hinting at the designer coming to terms with his own iconography. It was bias-cut (or what was left of it after the décortiqué was bias-cut.) Big whoop? Indeed. For all the renowned theatrics and lavishness of his fashion, the simple, sensual bias gown became one of the hallmarks of his work. Yet at some point, for some reason, he left it behind — a self-imposed exile from part of his creative self. Here, he brought it back. While the stripped-down slip was more runway than reality, not so Galliano’s two long black bias-cut skirts, one worn with a wool top open in the back and the other, a ruffled Harris tweed that offered a glimpse of midriff. Both oozed glamour most elegant. To say an Oscar nominee should be so smart as to wear one of these beauties — true. But of lesser importance than witnessing Galliano strip down to his pure creative essence is conjuring memories while standing firm in his powerful present.