John Galliano’s return to fashion is an immense occasion for those that experienced his explosive creativity firsthand, or who – like me – gorged on it through YouTube videos, old editorials and coffee table books. Galliano was one of fashion’s great dreamers – his shows swept us away with their fantasy, pomp and unabashed extravagance, and his comeback is timely, just as we’re questioning whether the industry can sustain the boundless imagination of its few remaining eccentric creators, in all their maverick glory. Just before Christmas it was announced that beloved duo Meadham Kirchhoff won’t be showing at London Fashion Week due to financial difficulties – they’re figuring out how to proceed in an industry where the pace is relentless, the financial risk never greater and the retail environment fraught with demands for everything to be wholly wearable, sellable and bankable.
Of course, there are those in less dire straits than Meadham, but should we be concerned when our most talented fashion designers, like J.W. Anderson, are cherry-picked for positions at prestigious houses – all the while maintaining their own labels? Will they be pushed to breaking point by the sheer workload? In a 2013 interview with US chat show host Charlie Rose, Galliano talked about identifying with the pressures felt by his contemporary Alexander Lee McQueen, another great dreamer, but one who also suffered due to fashion’s relentless pace and demand for new ideas. “We're setting that bar impossibly high, we don't understand how we're doing it and people say, ‘Wow, how are you going to top that?’ And we're like, ‘Well yeah we're going to, don't worry,'” Galliano said. That self-imposed pressure is something that is only exacerbated today, considering the increased number of collections that a 21st century creative director needs to undertake (at his downfall, Galliano was infamously producing 32 a year). Some relish this challenge, others yearn for a slower pace. Perhaps most importantly, the industry needs to learn from what happened to Galliano.
After an absence from the system, Galliano has once again immersed himself into this strenuous cycle of seasons, taking on multiple lines and collections at Margiela. And yet his current work environment couldn’t be more different to his previous employer. All eyes were on him at Dior, one of fashion’s most iconic houses, to create, perform (quite literally – see his exit bows at the end of his Dior and Galliano shows) and bring in the profits. As a global fashion powerhouse of the highest order, a downfall at Dior was only ever going to be dramatic. Although as a dreamer, a creator of worlds, Galliano’s work was revered, reality caught up with him, and pushed him almost to the point of no return. What did he think on hearing the news of Lee McQueen’s suicide? “I understood,” he said.
At the newly renamed Maison Margiela – Martin’s name having been emphatically removed – Galliano becomes the first openly “named” creative director after the label’s founder departed in 2009 – (Margiela themselves never openly referred to Matthieu Blazy, Galliano’s predecessor). It remains to be seen whether his appointment signals plans to lift the veil of secrecy that defines the house: though as of yet, Galliano has stayed true to the Margiela maxim of not giving any interviews to the press. If it is indeed business as usual at the maison, he has been inducted into a house where it’s his ideas that matter, not his persona – the clothes come first and quiet craftsmanship is valued above all else. But the implications of his new role go further than that – if Galliano can survive to design again, there’s hope that others will – that it won’t be the end for those, like Meahdham Kirchhoff, who too have found themselves at the mercy of the system.
Judging by Galliano’s recent appearance and demeanour, he’s keeping clear of theatrics, ditching his elaborate show costumes of days past to appear at the end of yesterday’s Artisanal runway in a white labcoat – the maison’s great equaliser, worn by all of its staff. With its associations of whitewashed surfaces and pure canvas, Margiela is a rare environment which provides the perfect figurative clean slate for the designer, somewhere his creativity can be nurtured and reignited, away from too many prying eyes. For Galliano, the tempest is over: it’s time to dream again.
To celebrate Galliano’s first show for Margiela, we drew unexpected parallels between their visual histories. Check out what happened when we took a rare trip inside the maison here.
Watch the full show below: