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Different Takes on Future Perfect at Fendi and Maison Margiela

Kim Jones finds optimism in the sleek and silvery. For John Galliano, there’s magic in moonlight.
Maison Margiela Artisanal 2024.
Maison Margiela Artisanal 2024. (Getty Images)

PARIS — When Kim Jones said he wanted to show Fendi’s future for his couture presentation on Monday afternoon, he didn’t mean next season. He was thinking about something much grander, much more abstract. With Max Richter’s serenely ethereal soundtrack floating around the clinical, blinding white show space, Jones dressed off-planet couture clients for the year 2124. Which is one way to escape the travails of 2024. But it also fitted with the designer’s own commitment to optimism about the distant future. Fendi often had one foot in a sci-fi future under the aegis of Karl Lagerfeld. The spindly spaciness of Delfina Delettrez’s eyewear, with a delicate band of diamonds for a nosepiece, harked back to those days.

The razor-precise lines of the collection, the colour palette of black, silver and ice, the tight chignons and pale makeup of the models all combined to create an impression of reduction to bare essence. The show opened and closed with a “box dress,” a simple geometric construction that sat on the torso like a tabard. In black gazar, it was almost forbiddingly stark. In pavé-ed bugle beads, it was like a weirdly alluring armour. Warmth was not really the key to this collection. Jones’s techno-take on fur composed a substantial coat out of shredded strips of metal for a fur effect. The glittering lattices of metalwork that bared bodies managed to be both chilly and erotic. Maybe that’s why the prevalent mood was sci-fi film noir, especially in the daywear with its tightly tailored jackets and midcalf skirts that evoked the 1940s.

The ultimate expression of such an idea is, of course, “Blade Runner.” But Jones rejected that notion. He insisted there was no dystopia in his vision. Plenty of purity though. (A white column with high neck and harnessed shoulders was splendidly cerebral.) And of course there were those transformative couture signatures — the 400,000 beads on one embroidered skirt, for instance — that exalt human endeavour in the face of quotidian banality.

Jones said there’d been less sketching, more fitting on the human form this season, which he preferred. One new notion was a wrapped bust which Jones said might refer to Romeo Gigli, the poet manqué of Italian fashion in the late 1980s. Or it might not. The maybe-reference was one of those Jonesisms which you can always find in his collections if you dig deep enough. A couple of gowns sported sculpted silver-beaded shapes that he’d borrowed from the Francis Bacon screen that accessorises his London home. The same silver beading (it’s a major moment for bugles) pavé-ed the collection’s finest look, a pant suit that said all the things Jones wanted to say with his new couture: it was real, it was extreme and it was futuristic. And he obviously knew it was the best because he saved it till (almost) last.

Fendi Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2024
Fendi Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2024
Fendi Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2024

Speaking of which, haute couture’s week in the spotlight also ended on a transcendent high with John Galliano’s latest Artisanal collection for Maison Margiela. At show’s end, the audience hollered for minutes on end, and foot-stomped and clapped till palms throbbed, knowing full well the designer wouldn’t take a bow, but wanting — needing — to acknowledge just the same the fact that fashion still possesses the power to thrill and shock and awe. Galliano was once fashion’s Great Showman, combining an impresario’s extravagance with the untrammelled imagination of a creative genius. The flame burned so bright its heat consumed him. But on Thursday night, he somehow rekindled it.

He was always able to tell a good story, cast it, dress it, stage it. We came together under the Pont Alexandre III, in a shadowy cellar bar lined with mirrors, like something out of 1932′s classic Paris de Nuit, the photographer Brassai’s document of the city’s soft white underbelly. The lights flickered every time a train rattled noisily overhead. We drank violet cordials while a slick homme fatale crooned. Then a lustrous film noir played on the mirrors. Beautiful young men laced each other into corsets, ran through rainswept streets, clashed under a bridge, stepped through a door … and into the bar where a couple of hundred people had been waiting for an hour.

In a preview the night before, Galliano listed the ingredients of his spectacle: Brassai’s vintage photographs of Parisian nightcrawlers; the painter Kees van Dongen’s hectically coloured portraits of those same people, some of them his flame-haired muses; dolls of all kinds … and corsetry. Galliano’s work with clients at Margiela had reactivated his interest in the voluptuous female form. “I just thought I’d really missed this,” he said. But it wasn’t only women’s bodies. The idea of corseted males was fundamental to his collection. “Build the foundation, then decorate the house,” Galliano added. So the close team of young men and women he considers his own muses made regular visits to his atelier to be trained into their corsets. Leon Dame, muse of muses, was first through the front door in a corset that highlighted his newly acquired waistline (I’d hazard 22″). The women who followed ran a gamut of body sizes, but shared similarly contracted silhouettes over which were draped Galliano’s extraordinary designs. It felt like a supernally disciplined exercise in fashion as purest form, and it was enthralling. But that was only part of the story.

“Technique! Technique! Technique!” That was Galliano’s mantra on Wednesday night while he was walking me through the collection. Like Cristóbal Balenciaga in his quest for the perfect sleeve, Galliano has been chasing the dream bias cut dress throughout his career. It has always been his signature piece, but he was always confounded by seaming. Until now. He claims he has mastered the completely seamless bias cut. With that breakthrough, he’s also mastered a new approach to the beaded bias. I asked questions, he gave me answers. But I’ll keep his secrets. “You don’t have to know,” he cried. “Just enjoy.” He celebrated by ditching banal g-strings in favour of merkins. “They’re just more beautiful.” By the same token, he covered the naked bodies of his Van Dongen women under their sheer organza dresses with hand-painted body stockings … of naked bodies.

There was the same complex but mesmerising just-for-the-hell-of-it rationale behind the trompe l’oeil effects that shaped the new collection’s outerwear. The men — Brassai’s voyeurs and flashers and pervs — wrapped themselves tight in macs and trench coats and duffels. But what looked like herringbone tweed or gabardine was actually printed silk crepe de chine, lined with a millefeuille of organza to give it an airy substance. The texture of a wool duffel was printed on silk then wreathed in a layer of net which gave it a ghostly effect, like it was bathed in moonlight. In fact, moonlight became everything, as lace diffused into chiffon, as dresses faded to memories before our eyes. There was magic in a long, silvery shaft of a skirt, poignantly paired with a tiny cashmere cardigan, “poverina,” pilled like a well-loved teddy bear its wearer clutched for reassurance.

That’s where the dolls came from. Receptacles of love. Loved to death, in fact. Broken. And now re-animated to uncertain effect. Galliano closed his show with porcelain-faced beauties contorting in corseted candy-striped cotton. Can something be sweet and macabre? The answer came in the authoritative form of Gwendoline Christie, dressed in quivering latex, like the matron of the doll hospital.

Galliano’s motivation as a fashion designer is all-consuming: “It’s the idea, the emotion that you can feel from clothes and time.” He has always moulded that with techniquetechniquetechnique, but something else happened this season to raise his game. He claimed it was down to the team he has finally been able to put in place, the young people he is training. He seems keen to deflect praise. But Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was on the soundtrack and this was a spring collection, so maybe it’s also a new day for John Galliano.

Fendi Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2024

Maison Margiela Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2024

Further Reading

What do you get when you fuse an Irish-Chinese pagan feminist with a French couture house? Ask Simone Rocha. She’s the latest ‘guest‘ designer to be invited by Jean Paul Gaultier to bring her own spin to his remarkable legacy.

What John Galliano has been doing at Maison Margiela looks like an attempt to (re)create a modern folklore in fashion. This collection clarified that intent.

About the author
Tim Blanks
Tim Blanks

Tim Blanks is Editor-at-Large at The Business of Fashion. He is based in London and covers designers, fashion weeks and fashion’s creative class.

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