By the time Game of Thrones actress Gwendoline Christie closed the Maison Margiela Spring Summer 2024 Fashion Show dressed as a life-size porcelain doll, audiences knew that they would remember this show for years to come.
Those familiar with the world of high fashion in the 90s were taken back to the era when Margiela’s creative director John Galliano, along with fashion visionaries like Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen, ruled the London fashion scene with their overtly theatrical and sensual fashion shows almost unheard of in modern-day Fashion Week displays.
The collection, named ‘Artisanal’, was presented by the river Sienne below the iconic Parisian bridge Pont Alexandre III on 25 January, the first full moon night of the year. According to show notes, Hungarian-French artist Brassaï's voyeuristic portraits of the Parisian underbelly in the 20s inspired the collection.
Eerie yellow lights shone down on the venue by the river Sienne, which was arranged to resemble a rundown bar with broken crockery and used liquor bottles. French singer Lucky Love's performance of Now I Don't Need Your Love (pictured above) set the mood for the show; a black-and-white cinematic reel reflected in floor-length mirrors and featuring hidden identities, jewellery heists and forbidden romances introduced the audience to the world in which Galliano's collection was set.
Different Shades of The Parisian Underbelly
To the tune of Adele’s Hometown Glory, stumbled out a bare-chested Leon Dame, dressed as a dock worker in a white waspie, high-waisted trousers and a flat cap. He was followed by Parisian cocotte in sheer tulle and lace gowns and clearly visible merkins, going about their nightly professions with their dishevelled hair and seductive confidence. Shady crooks with deconstructed coats and a matchstick between their lips leered at the audience; their bandit eye masks peeped out of their caps, ready to be pulled down whenever danger seemed nearby. There were also the upper-class ladies with their dainty bags and puffed floral print dresses strutting tiredly after a night full of dances and extravagant parties. Also on the ramp were the occasional passersby scurrying off in the harsh weather, with broken, upside-down umbrellas and beads sewn into their coats to resemble raindrops. Last but not least, there were the lifesize porcelain dolls with striped dresses and porcelain neckplates.
Floral and animal motifs appeared throughout the collection, from leopard-printed tabby boots and floral skirts to a moth sewn cleverly to cover the derriere of a cocotte's fully sheer gown. Illusion characterised all the pieces; petite models had their clothes stuffed to Kardashian-esque proportions to give the illusion of the curvy Victorian Belle Epoque silhouette (speaking of the Kardashians, Kim and Kylie were amongst the onlookers in the front row). Other notable details included furry tabby boots that looked like real animal legs, porcelain-like neckplates that were actually made of painted and polished leather and coats that seemed to be made of corrugated cardboard but were just multiple layers of fine fabric.
Lovechild of Dior and Martin Margiela
Before joining as the creative director of Maison Margiela in 2014, Galliano had been designing clothes for Christian Dior for fifteen years, and it’s difficult to overlook the influence of these two designers on the collection. In fact, the first look of the show (above) felt like a tribute to both designers - the impossibly cinched waist reminiscent of the New Look popularised by Dior in the 1950s and the entire getup an ode to the deceptively simple no-shirt first look from Martin Margiela’s first show in spring 1989. The Tabi boots are typical Margiela staples, and the long white running stitch finishes that stand out in so many looks in this collection are an ode to his philosophy of celebrating the process of making clothes by leaving a raw or uneven finish.
Stalwarts Behind the Scenes
References aside, this also is the most quintessential John Galliano show presented in the past few years in terms of performance and storytelling. And it is not just the result of a single season’s hard work - this collection had been a year in the making. Eight of the fifteen techniques used to construct the pieces were invented by the couturier for this collection alone.
Not only that, this show saw the collaboration of some of the most revered names in the fashion industry. Makeup legend Pat McGrath worked on giving the models’ faces the glass skin effect that has the internet obsessing over it ever since the show aired online. Renowned hair stylist and fashion giant Duffy worked on their models’ hair and shaped the frizzy hat-like hair of the courtesans. Another familiar Galliano collaborator for the show was Pat Boguslawski, the movement director who had previously shot model Leon Dame to fame with this over-the-top strut in 2020, and who directed the movement of each model in the show to tell a different story.
In 2014, when Galliano was announced Creative Director of Maison Margiela, he had been famously asked by Martin Margiela to “Take what you will from the DNA of the house… and make it your own”. With the Artisanal collection, John Galliano proved that he had kept his word to the Maison’s founder. This was a collection fit for the last show of Fashion Week. It was dramatic. It was titillating. It was eerie. It was spectacularly beautiful. And more than anything, it was a statement that John Galliano - after years of staying under the radar since his publicised fall from Dior because of his Anti-Semitic comments - is back to start a new chapter in both his life and in the history of contemporary fashion.
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