For whom do we dress, and for what? For our true selves, for real-life situations and the people we come in contact with therein? Or do those now matter less than the selves we create for social media and the audience we find there?
That sometimes antagonistic dialogue between real life and fictionalized Instagram life has been a topic of conversation for some time. In his Maison Margiela Artisanal collection on Wednesday morning, John Galliano officially brought the question into the world of haute couture at a spot previously unexplored — its very core. In the lust for social media relevance, couturiers, like the rest of fashion, have pushed hard to capture the small screen-viewing audience, opting for elaborate, picture-perfect sets and fancy-folk front rows (well, fancy doesn’t always apply, but you the get the drift). Galliano took it a dramatic step further. He played to the camera with the clothes themselves.
Don’t they all? No, they don’t. Not this way; not so far. “When I came back [after the Dior exit],” Galliano said before his show, “I saw that people were watching shows differently — like this,” he extended his phone arm. “They’re not watching the show. They’re taking pictures of the show.”
Galliano thus decided to make clothes with two distinct realities: physical and virtual. Working with a company that makes reflective materials to develop a fabric that looks black in real life, but — flash-click and voila! — it turns into waves of vibrant, undulating colors visible only on-screen or in the camera. Whether this particular fabric usage proves fanciful gimmick (probably) or full-on new direction (probably not), is a side issue. The notion that how clothes look on a phone screen should be a, if not the, primary consideration through the design process has now infiltrated the tradition-rich, craftsmanship-obsessed world of couture.
That Galliano, one of the greatest couturiers of all time, a man who really, really, really knows how to make clothes, first broached the issue should not surprise. He is at heart a subversive, over the years deconstructing more ground than the crews redoing LaGuardia. His consistent goal: Coalescing the beautiful with the new and challenging.
With this collection he succeeded, although it was hard to tell, at least during the show. Galliano recently changed venues, moving to the Maison Margiela headquarters, an idiosyncratic space that invites up-close viewing. But there is such a thing as too close, particularly as the models raced by, their furious pace perhaps to facilitate a captivating live-stream. Those audience members close to where the models exited got only a split-second of full-frontal view. Nor did the speed allow for following a model from front to back — a shame, because a 360-viewing of a Galliano Margiela surprises at every turn.
Galliano continued his exploration of “relaxed glamour.” Though hardly glamorous in any conventional sense, the head-spinning lineup did reference traditional tropes: “the memory of a slipdress” between polyurethane layers; a gorgeous jacquard gown under a black fishnet dress under a clear plastic corset. Every look a marvel of creation, the complexities were only suggested during the models’ runway stomp. Galliano mixed the silks and laces indigenous to couture with industrial materials chosen to reflect and refract light — polyurethane, film, even Perspex color swatches that became a charmingly noisy fringed skirt. He “painted” with feathers, encasing the resulting swirl of vibrant color inside a plastic coat, and spliced fan-pleated iridescent film wedges into the bodice and skirt of a satin-back crepe gown.
Compelling, fascinating, wildly inventive. It was also a lot to take in in about eight minutes, the experimental fervor reaching fever pitch. Galliano has always pushed boundaries, and the results have often awed. So, too, has the less dizzying side of his work – remember the glorious bias gowns that changed the way women dressed at night? Here, he slipped in a reminder of such wonders: a black tuxedo, only cut completely on the bias — apparently no small trick. Oh, for one or two more such gems! No one wants mundane from Galliano; plenty of others have that market covered. But the occasional visual exhale would be nice. From a couturier of Galliano’s caliber, a little breathing room brings its own sort of awe.