In Galliano’s second co-ed collection, desire, decay and decadence play a central role. Male and female models alike wear an assorted blend of extravagant capes, and preppy shredded sweaters frayed at the elbows, chest, and back, along with tiny shorts over sexy garters and tall leather riding boots. In 2011 John Galliano spent three months undergoing equine therapy with an alpha male horse named Blue. This experience became one of his most personal inspirations for Maison Margiela Fall 2019 artisanal collection. “So few of us remember how to rely on instinct,” reflects Galliano. “I didn’t know how to listen to my head, I didn’t know how to listen to my heart, I didn’t really know the difference, and I lost all instinct.” Through horseback riding, Galliano unlocked the ability to once again rely on his instinct. Only when you conquer your fear can you gain the trust of a horse. And, it seems, the trust of yourself. If you look carefully, you can see Blue’s head jutting from the necks of bolo ties and mixed into the layered prints in Galliano’s imaginative, forward thinking collection.
With the resurgence of interest in tailoring, we’re seeing more and more designers expose the inner workings of garments. Galliano takes this to a whole new level, transforming trousers into entirely new garments, using linings and flies with a sculptural voracity never seen before. Trousers are sliced on one side from waist to shins in a violent interpretation of a slit, provocatively exposing pocket bags, boxers, and garters. In one look, trousers were blown up, and spliced apart then refinished into gowns, one with enormous pockets pulled backwards into a bouffant explosion between the shoulder blades over a billowing full skirt. Others had flies and waistbands jutting into the air over shoulders creating iconic silhouettes reminiscent of both Galliano and Martin Margiela’s body of work. The surface of blazers and coats were perforated into lattice honeycomb with holes the size of quarters – an actual nightmare for anyone with a hint of trypophobia.
This is Galliano’s third collection focused on decadence, and it’s only fitting that Galliano, a designer known for luxury and theatrics, would be reflecting on decadence at this period in his life. Nowadays the word decadence is mostly associated with rich deserts, or anything that is a bit self indulgent. Perhaps couture falls into such a category? The classic couture silhouettes in this collection are described as “couture cliches”- ball gowns with bouffant bosoms, watteau backs and trains that feature heavily in Galliano’s body of work, and they appear this time crafted from reimagined trousers and chaotic prints on sheer fabrics described as projections.
Historically the word decadence refers to a time of social decline and decay following a period of wealth and excess. Both meanings are pertinent to this collection. After an immensely accomplished career that train wrecked into a disastrous self-inflicted misadventure, Galliano is once again at the head of a major French fashion house. He joins the ranks of other designers like Donatella Versace, who after a wild and dangerous period of near self-destruction have re-emerged with the ability to reflect on their life experiences with sincerity and composure to create some truly outstanding work. The designer perforated textiles of every kind from printed organza to couture grade suiting with round holes – an analogy to wearing thin, and being ready to crumble. The edges of the closely clustered holes were left unfinished, which means these pieces truly are fragile and prone to easily fray and fall apart. The textiles felt emotionally complicated, reflecting both Galliano’s arduous skill and a reckless destruction. They appeal to our basic human desire to create and destroy, a willingness to perfect, but also to tear down and rebuild. Which is brilliant.
Galliano reflected on today’s culture of aesthetic excess and digital social environments as creating “desire without reason”. The projections created with prints on sheer fabrics represent the filters we are subject to seeing reality through that help create these ultra-enhanced virtual realities that feed into this reasonless desire. This collection, however, is desirable for pretty clear reasons. We’ve never seen a collection like this, where menswear and womenswear so successfully blend together the traditions of tailoring and formal gowns in a way that feels so modern and relevant rather than overly conceptual to the point of discomfort. There are men in lavish gowns that look masculine, strong, and dangerous rather than delicate and restricted.
Near the end of the show small details catch the eye – a palm sized, heart shaped lock dangles from a belt with an antique key sticking out of it. It’s a detail seemingly out of place, yet with the narrative created by Galliano we can see it for what it is – a hint that we can also unlock our own hearts, and rise again out of the rubble of our own destruction. And for a collection dealing so heavily with decline and decay, what a beautiful and hopeful message to end on. Just as humble linings and pocket bags are transformed into magnificent avant guard forms, Galliano passes that transformative power to the wearer so that anyone can feel like the phoenix rising from the ashes.