Decadence — a word tingling with intrigue, and the new object of John Galliano’s fascination for his Maison Margiela Artisanal collection.
The designer spent the past four couture seasons defining “a New Glamour,” the results of which are the “blood coursing through the veins of the Maison Margiela,” he notes in the latest installment of the podcast, created to provide context to his collections. Now, he’s ready to move on.
The collection Galliano showed on Monday was all about decadence, which he equates with excess, and what’s more excessive today than the insatiable thirst for technology, especially among Gen Z types? “The overstimulation of computer-generated imagery alters reality and degenerates the truth. Chaotic and unsettling, it is a confusion of the senses rooted in an over-satiation that inevitably overspills,” his program read. He thus wondered if now is the time for a counter movement, one from frenzy to something resembling restraint.
The show space at Margiela headquarters fueled overstimulation, covered in a wild, aggressive graffiti motif made all the more dizzying by the mirrored floor. The only image to emerge with clarity from the visual dissonance was that of a poodle in a color Galliano loves — vibrant Yves Klein blue. Turns out, the pooch served a purpose. Galliano sees the best-in-show version of the breed — its coat clipped and groomed to the nines in a sublime contrast of fluffed and flat — as a visual manifestation of decadence. Its image thus became an essential trope of the collection.
Only you didn’t know that for some time, because it first appeared in a “sequence print” featuring the same jumbled goings-on as on the walls, but the imagery impossible to decode as the models sauntered past. Such was the case with the first several looks out, discombobulated pilings all. In fact, from some angles, it was clothes and walls blended. “Overspilling confusion,” indeed.
Then, suddenly, a dark brown herringbone boiler suit popped out clearly from the backdrop. It was decorated with a blue poodle, high-pile in all the right places, the dog’s first discernible appearance, and a concrete example of clarity distilled from mayhem. This began Galliano’s retreat from the frenzy as the clothes started to look more like, well, clothes. They came in reassuringly familiar men’s wear fabrics with references to items in the classical cannon — jacket, trench, skirt. Among the lineup: jacket/top hybrid in green velvet and black lace; skirt morphed into a capelike affair, plastered with another giant poodle; chic black-and-red jacket, all worn over variations of coats remade into shorts by Galliano’s remarkable construction machinations — and not to be confused with plain. Such looks were worn by women and men, as Galliano has embraced a platform of gender fluidity for the company.
It was all compelling stuff — deep fashion thoughts brought to audacious life by one of the industry’s boldest practitioners. Yet it left questions unanswered. First, is the journey from chaos to calm complete, or, as with his exploration into New Glamour, is Galliano just getting started? Either way, what to make of the looks that bound the arms, including the show’s final exit, a big, baggy onesie? Is Galliano suggesting that, try as we might, we’ll never fully break free from modern mayhem?
Less heady but perhaps more important, has Galliano become too caught up in trying to convince us of his own currency? If so, why? Since he joined Margiela, his work has been explosive with experimentation; he has pushed, questioned, reinvented and recharged, particularly in couture. So much so that pushing at times overwhelms this audience if not himself. No one wants Galliano to regress to the Nineties (glorious though they were for him); he is one of fashion’s all-time greats, and part of that greatness is the drive to always reject the status quo. But how wonderful if he would take a respite from his current anthropological fashion ruminations, from deep-thoughts fashion, and give us a collection of shallow thoughts — one that holds up a mirror not to chaos, but to the wonders of exquisitely beautiful clothes of a level that only an all-time great can create. Talk about decadence.