John Galliano makes stunning return at Maison Margiela
The huge expectations and feverish speculation about how he'd fit in at his new label could not dim the magic in John Galliano's return show
Yesterday in London, at 4.30pm – British tea-time, as the label called it – John Galliano showed his debut collection for Maison Margiela, and in doing so ended his four-year exile from the fashion world.
While no one has forgotten the designer's anti-Semitic rant and subsequent firing from Dior in 2011, there could be no denying that it was thrilling to see Galliano return to doing what he was so clearly born to.
In an almost clinical white space on the fourth floor of a non-descript building in central London, 180 seats, all of them front row, were filled with virtually every fashion name that matters. There were fellow designers, including Manolo Blahnik, Alber Elbaz of Lanvin and Christopher Bailey of Burberry, model/muse Kate Moss (whose late arrival delayed proceedings by 15 minutes), and of course the commentators, led by longtime Galliano champion Anna Wintour.
By opting to debut with the Artisanal collection, Margiela's version of couture, Galliano gave himself a soft landing back into the world he once ruled. From the moment news of his appointment broke, anyone with even a passing interest in fashion had pondered how the king of decadence could possibly fit in at a house known for embracing anonymity (whether for its clothes or their original creator, Belgian-born Martin Margiela). We will have a better idea of that after the ready-to-wear shows in Paris; but Artisanal, given its emphasis on found or collected objects, the absurd and even the grotesque, is very much a Galliano world.
Which is not to say it was all feathers and lace. There was Margiela minimalism in the oversized black suit and red column gown with a gorgeous swooping back, while the pieced-together toile dresses gave a nod to the house's fondness for deconstruction. But these were interspersed with Galliano-typical decadence that bordered on frightening. Theatrical dresses with faces on the front, complete with fluttering plastic eyelashes, seemed almost everyday once the full face masks and pearl teeth took to the catwalk. And the Alien-like creatures emerging from stomachs could be seen as an almost literal exorcising of demons, if being literal was even remotely Galliano's thing. Between the pointed crowns, glass shards, tulle and the toy cars that adorned the first look out – an otherwise simple safari-style jacket – this was ultimately a collection that showed Galliano can make it work at Maison Margiela.
The response was enthusiastic applause, according to the Guardian, but no standing ovation, which they called "right and proper". Tim Blanks wrote for Style.com: "He's back, everyone cried at show's end, the palpable excitement overwhelming the sense of relief." Others were more effusive. Kate Moss said she had "shivers up and down my legs", while Wintour called it "brilliant", and not only clapped but even laughed at the conclusion.
Was it a collection worthy of the hype that's been doing the social media rounds under the #MargielaMonday hashtag? Yes, although it did feel like a beginning. One full of promise. Let's hope Galliano, at 54, is now ready to handle it.