John Galliano’s appointment as creative director of Maison Margiela last October resulted in huge hype and anticipation. There was no sign of it subsiding in the run-up to Friday’s presentation of the brand’s spring/summer 2016 menswear collection in Paris. There was only one problem. No involvement from Galliano. Moments before the show began, Margiela representatives confirmed this collection was designed by the design team or, in brand parlance, “the collective”. The sense of anticlimax was understandable.
Galliano’s influence would have meant a kind of flamboyance. Famous for post-show outfits that have included an astronaut and a matador, this fantastical approach – and penchant for catwalk drama – has fuelled his menswear designs. By contrast, the clothes here were wearable, even quite conservative, particularly for a house that, since it was founded by the Belgian designer Martin Margiela in 1988, has showcased all manner of catwalk oddness – including masks, oversized fur coats and jewelled vests for men.
There were beautifully cut, slim, sharp suits, and easy sportswear in hooded tops and simple sweaters. A few elements marked out the collection’s Margiela-ness: rubber tops with paper patches like papier-mache, drawing-pin detailing on jacket lapels, and beaten-up boots. The result was a fairly typical mix of minimalism, hand-finished details and deconstructed classics. Not quite the Galliano reboot some were hoping for, but a perfectly nice collection.
That overhaul will come, Margiela representatives promise, but Galliano’s input at the house will be a gradual process rather than an immediate shakeup. This is the third show season since the designer officially took over at the house, part of Galliano’s wider rehabilitation, in part supported by his friend the American Vogue editor, Anna Wintour. His Margiela collections to date include couture and women’s ready-to-wear. While an exact timeline is still unclear, menswear, arguably, should be next.
Galliano was sacked from Christian Dior in February 2011 following antisemitic remarks made in a Parisian cafe, and then spent three years away from designing. The fashion community greeted his appointment at Margiela with congratulations. Renzo Rosso, president of Only the Brave, the company that owns Margiela, is a longtime supporter. The designer is “one of the greatest, undisputed talents of all time”, he has said.
Galliano has this year spoken publicly about problems with addiction and stress due to overworking, at events including the Vogue festival in April and at a talk at a London synagogue in May. Discussing the events of 2011 he said: “I am an alcoholic. I am an addict,” and revealed that, at Margiela, he was trying not to let his job become an “all-consuming passion … talking about shiny black or matt black for two hours”.
The gradual approach to his new gig could be seen more as evidence of that.