PARIS, France — The soundtrack of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was playing as the audience took its seats at the Maison Margiela show on Wednesday. It was a reminder that Haute Hollywood was once a frequent fallback position for John Galliano. In its 30s/40s/50s heyday, Hollywood was the ultimate hybridising engine, churning art, culture and history into celluloid vehicles for movie stars.
Martin Margiela also churned, although in his case it was clothes and their manifold associations. And now Galliano was bringing the two impulses together in his hybrid vision of a WAC’s uniform — tailored army jacket and skirt — corralled by a mutant Mildred Pierce apron. Which proved, one more time, that he could stay true to himself while offering a surprisingly natural update to the original Margiela mind-set.
The proffered notes — and how fulsome they were — talked about “the vocabulary of glamour.” The show certainly spoke that loud and clear with its pencil skirts and highlighted waists (the wide, big-buckled belts clearly a key accessory) and its sheer Japanese lurex, like luminous gift-wrapping for the body.
But it was the spirit of Margiela to defuse a trope as conventional as “glamour,” and Galliano did this expertly. A silver lamé skirt paired with a soldier’s coat was an obvious example. The collection was full of such peculiar pairings: a shapeless cabled sweater over a pleated skirt, the studded apron that dominated another skirt and sweater set.
Admittedly, a Galliano collection was always a stylist’s dream, a thousand components to toy with, and so it was today. How could you not make a story out of these clothes? But if, not so long ago, he was wrestling with irrelevance, Galliano has shown that submergence is the key to re-emergence.