*John Galliano enters the group chat*. For years now, the esteemed design visionary has remained firmly behind the scenes whilst helming one of the most prestigious couture houses on the planet. He barely talks to the press, refuses to take bows at the end of his shows and only ever reveals the inspirations for his latest Maison Margiela offerings through a podcast that’s posted the night before the collection is revealed to the world. The sheer enigmatic energy that surrounds his very being is what makes the unveiling of his latest Maison Margiela Artisanal collection so spectacular. Shown slap-bang in the middle of the Milan Digital Fashion Week shows, the house had the potential to produce a digital narrative so outlandish, an out-of-body experience so intense, that it wouldn’t feel like an anomaly when paired with the unfettered creativity Galliano puts on the catwalk each season. Instead, the house’s Artisanal AW20 film, the hour-long S.W.A.L.K., began with a Zoom call. Pat McGrath, Eugene Souleiman and Nick Knight, all chatting with a giggly Galliano who took the trio through the inspirations for the season. “Artisan is the heartbeat of the house, the energy,” he says, as he shows a series of Powerpoint presentations, email chains and lengthy written-lists of references for them to digest, dissect and spit out to envision the collection’s final outcome.
For the first time since joining the Margiela family, Galliano delved deep into his own archive – back to 1985, to be exact. He looked to a series of muslin dresses that closed out his eponymous label’s spring/summer 1986 collection. Galliano doused each model in water so the dresses clung to each their forms in pretty swirls. It is just one Galliano creation that has inspired a legion of devotees following in his footsteps – such as the emerging London designer Di Petsa, who’s “drenched” dresses have been worn by FKA Twigs. To re-create the wet look in 2020 required the Margiela team to use a circular cutting technique, which uses a complex interlocking of several circular panels. One atelier suggested they just drench the models with actual water once more – “that would be too easy,” chuckled Galliano.
Photographs by Rob Rusling
Throughout the film, we’re offered a fly-on-the-wall view into the Margiela Atelier. Cameras were everywhere. Strapped to drones, models, heads of ateliers, and even on dogs as they pant around the studio – “all dogs are welcome,” proclaimed Galliano. The designer’s studio uniform is a spectacle in itself, sporting a rare pair of Supreme x Nike Uptempo’s as he slashes, pins and drapes the garments straight on the models. All whilst a non-surgical mask dangles from his ear. As you can expect, there are plenty of Galliano one-liners thrown in throughout the film, a standout being when Nick Knight asks if each dress has a name, “no but they can,” Galliano says. “Look number 1: Bitch, she’s driving me insane!”
This couture collection saw Galliano flashback to his days with the Blitz Kids, the group of eccentrics who trekked to Covent Garden every Tuesday throughout the 1970s/80s to attend club Blitz. The androgynous fashions worn by Galliano and the likes of Princess Julia and Steve Strange – who are both interviewed for the film – practically birthed the New Romantics scene. Julia called the club a “melting pot of experimentation.” Harking back to his student days, getting in-tune with his inner Blitz Kid once more, involved Galliano scavenging through the rails of Parisian charity shops, digging out overcoats and blazers in which he took back to the studio to deconstruct. “There’s no more nightlife, let’s have a zoom party,” he said, as two of his muses – Leon Dame and the mononymous Anton – pranced in the upcycled vintage creations to the sounds of Adam & The Ants. Modern-day Blitz Kids? We think so.
Nick Knight did an impeccable job of collating what seemed to be a seemingly endless amount of video calls, emails and WhatAapp messages. Throughout the film, Knight interweaved a second narrative – one of his synonymous, thermal-camera fashion films, which saw models frantically run, thrash and bang in these impeccable couture fashions. Galliano quoted the French poet John Cocteau, “there can’t be any poetry without death,” as Margiela Artisan creatures were chased by sinister clouds of black smoke.
Throughout the mini-documentary, with all its twists, turns and shared computer screens, Galliano’s passion for couture stays firmly centre stage. “Artisan fuels the house,” he said, speaking of how a modern couture collection is not about selling clothes, but showing the capabilities of the house. For Maison Margiela, these capabilities are limitless.
Top images by Nick Knight.