John Galliano Evokes the ‘Underbelly of Paris’ at Maison Margiela

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    John Galliano’s spring 2024 Artisanal collection for Maison Margiela will surely be remembered in history books, collected by museums, pored over by design students — and possibly extinguish the quiet luxury juggernaut with the tsunami of powerful emotions and fashion thrills it unleashed.

    It was a theatrical tour de force akin to a Toulouse Lautrec painting come to life: frizzy haired ladies tottering through a ramshackle saloon with its jumble of chairs, weathered floorboards and tables strewn with upset magnums. This coed show, as vivid and gripping as a feature film in Imax, also featured men who stalked the room like fugitives, clutching their coats tightly around their tiny waists.

    The unease caused by the extreme corseted waists was blunted by the enormous pathos these characters evoked: a man wet and shivering under a broken umbrella; another nearly doubled over in apparent hunger; a woman in a grandiose trenchcoat that looked made from weathered cardboard, another in a shrunken suit and tattered stockings nervously doffing her hat repeatedly, revealing bandages and plaster encasing her head.

    The clothes were gorgeous: sheer bias-cut dresses dabbed with scribbles of silvery embroidery, or dense accumulations of godets; rumpled street-urchin suits nipped and tucked for maximum glamour, and gauzy siren gowns that revealed the models’ enhanced Jessica Rabbit figures, and merkins.

    Front-row guests Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner watched in wide-eyed wonder as these proud, inebriated ladies swung their swollen derrieres through the tight, jumbled rows of spectators.

    An unlit match gripped in their teeth and their faces shiny, the men strolled in from the damp, blustery night in handsome tweed coats and enveloping trenches.

    Intrigued by the “voyeuristic portraiture of Brassaï,” Galliano had decided to explore the “underbelly of Paris” and its after-dark revellers, according to the press notes.

    The setting could not have been more atmospheric, the derelict speakeasy painstakingly constructed under the Pont Alexandre III, with half the audience seated outside under the bridge at café tables. Inside, thunder rumbled during the hourlong wait for the show to start, when the antique mirrors finally flickered to life as video monitors, broadcasting a short, choppy film noir of fetishistic corset tightening, lust and jewel thievery.

    Every outfit was a marvel of imagination and artisanal craft, and by the time actress Gwendoline Christie finished the circuit in her kinky fit-and-flare latex dress, the photographers were howling “Bravo” and filmmaker Baz Luhrmann joined the audience in stomping their feet with delight.

    Capping off a couture week heavy on safe, client-friendly clothes, Galliano returned the rare pursuit to its original R&D purpose, the press notes detailing a litany of new techniques developed over the last year, some involving boiling and glueing, others incrustation and complex thread-work.

    One technique is dubbed “emotional cutting,” which entails imbuing garments “with the unconscious gestures that shape our expressions: a caban pulled over the head in the rain, a lapel raised to cover the face, a trouser hoicked up to evade a water puddle.”

    With this poignant, unforgettable show, Galliano reaffirmed that he is still a cut above the rest.

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