Skip to main content

Maison Margiela has graduated from the old school it used to inhabit, to a new five-floor super-modern building on the grand Place des États-Unis. Tonight, John Galliano threw an “open house” which led visitors on a trail from the foundations of the establishment to the roof terrace. And then he unleashed an extraordinarily personal punk-romantic “Co-Ed” collection; a young gang of Galliano characters he described as “revolutionaries with a conscience.”

In an earlier conversation, Galliano brought up the term ‘Rorschach test’ for the subjective seeing of different things when we look at fashion. Through these eyes, it looked very like a fierce, urgent reveling in the subcultural spirit of the ’70s and early ’80s in London—Galliano’s youth, but brought forward, mashed up for today. “You might see some familiar figures in it,” he suggested. “Jordan on the King’s Road; the fishnets; Johnny Rotten, maybe.”

He’d sent out crude collaged photocopied flyers with his invitations—like fanzines and invites to underground gigs, the way kids navigated nightlife long before mobile phones. A couple of models were clutching them with their handbags as they lurched down the runway, as if in a hurry to get somewhere. In some of their hats, fancifully collaged from trash bags and scraps of tulle, were cockades made from chopped-up flyers. Suddenly, was that an echo of the French Revolutionaries—the Incroyables—who Galliano referenced in his very first collection out of St Martins in 1984?

Double, triple and glancingly coincidental meanings abounded. Galliano has been collaborating with Pendleton, the famed American blanket maker. There were rompers and coats and back-to-front shirts made from its materials. Then there was another extraordinary coat patchworked from layers of blue and red tulle.

It didn’t look like punk tartan—Vivienne Westwood’s eternally favorite fabric—but then again, it almost did. And, to these eyes at least, there she was, almost personified in the girls who were dashing along in Galliano’s ingeniously wrapped pencil skirts—the sexy ’50s rocker style that Vivienne always spoke about as the first clothes she loved making for herself as a teenager.

If that really was a salute to the late, great godmother of punk, it was also mixed up in the layers and layers of Galliano’s spins on ’50s tulle ballgowns, his huge, swinging opera coats, and chopped-up Americana. There were Western-type jackets with Mickey Mouse plackets, Hawaiian prints. A dizzying cacophony of rich pickings in terms of products to buy, in fact—all orchestrated in very Galliano-esque provocation to pick things up and style them as you like.

He wanted to make another point about the importance of the Maison Margiela atelier in the basement of the new house. Here, he’d put in installations from his last ‘Artisanal’ couture theater and film extravaganza, Cinema Inferno. Mannequins were posed on sewing and cutting tables—and in a car crashing through the atrium—in the impressively spacious room. It was a close-up reminder of the elaborate American-Gothic story Galliano had made up about a young couple on the run, Count and Hen: the beginnings of the new collection we just saw.

All Galliano’s fantasies and experiments are made possible and grow upwards from this creative nerve-centre. It’s the lab that hatches the formulae for the collections which fuel the ready-to-wear and accessories—and then supports all of the floors of business offices and studios of the house. And judging by the scale of it, it must be working very well.