opposites attract? john galliano joins maison martin margiela
With news that John Galliano has joined Maison Martin Margiela as Creative Director across its collections, we contemplate fashion’s new power match.
After three years in fashion exile, John Galliano has joined Maison Martin Margiela as Creative Director of all its lines, it was announced in a statement yesterday. For those of us (like myself), who loved and lived for Galliano's work until 2011 - and defended him against the scapegoatism that became his reality in the years after - it's a welcome and overdue return. But one, nonetheless, that comes with a few obvious and unanswered questions. For instance, how will one of the most famous designers in the world front the most famously anonymous house in the world? Will he come out for his bow post-finale, something that's never happened at Margiela? Or will they send him out in one of those jewel-encrusted masks they made for Kanye West?
Galliano's legacy is the very contrary to the image of the retired Martin Margiela and the house he left in the hands of Diesel in 2009. Margiela's branding was all about remaining faceless while Galliano's was all about putting a face to name, even if that name was behind the name Christian Dior fifty percent of the time. In his own line, he splashed the John Galliano name all over garments as part of his newspaper print, while Margiela put an unassuming four white stitches in the back of his clothes. Margiela never appeared on the runway after his shows. Galliano was the very highlight of his shows, parading down the runway in fantastical costumes like some warlord returning from the battlefields of haute couture. In that sense, the Maison's hiring of Galliano is one of the most surprising in fashion history.
Apart from their mutual understanding of great showmanship—albeit in very different ways—the Maison and Galliano have one thing in common: their joining together comes in the wake of a tumultuous time for both parties. In February 2011, Galliano was filmed making anti-Semitic remarks whilst under the influence of alcohol to a group of unknown people outside La Perle in Paris. It led to his firing from Christian Dior and his eponymous label, and resulted in an aggressive witch-hunt on Galliano, who had already been enrolled in rehab in America. In an interview with Charlie Rose last year, the designer explained what a toll his duties at Dior had taken on him, and said his comments had been the irrational ramblings of a drunk provoked by troublemakers.
On a less life-changing - but for them, significant - level, Maison Martin Margiela's strict principles of anonymity for everyone on their team were compromised this summer as Suzy Menkes published the name of their designer, Matthieu Blazy, on British Vogue.com, along with a picture she'd taken of him backstage. The Maison released a statement saying no rules had been changed at Margiela Inc, while Blazy left on October 1st and has reportedly gone to another game changing fashion house. Just a week prior to Menkes' outing of Blazy, at the Maison's menswear show, an evident change in directions had editors gossiping about the hiring of a certain cult menswear designer, who shall still remain nameless. (There's no word on whether or not Galliano's arrival will result in this designer's departure, but fingers crossed they'll keep him.)
Of course, Blazy's reported exit from Margiela may as well have been ignited by rumours of Galliano's hiring at the Maison, which have been making the rounds in the industry for some time now following Galliano-spottings at Central Saint Martins where the designer was no doubt interviewing for positions on his new team. Fashion is fickle like that, and for Galliano the industry isn't necessarily the same as the one he left three years ago. (He did enjoy a brief stint at Oscar de la Renta last season, but not as the headlining act.) Gone are the incredible displays of theatre and opulence Galliano trademarked during his epic thirteen-year reign at Christian Dior, replaced instead by equally expensive but minimal displays of, well, minimalism. It's what has been deemed tasteful these days, and what Galliano will have to tackle and reinvent if he is to conquer a second era of fashion domination.
There is one house in Paris where Galliano's larger-than-life spirit yet penetrates the walls and garments that still hold his name: the house of John Galliano and its flagship store on rue Saint Honoré, owned by LVHM - his old bosses at Dior - and designed by his former right-hand man, Bill Gaytten. More peculiar than Galliano's new residency at Maison Martin Margiela and all the questions that come with it is perhaps Galliano's impending return to a fashion capital that still puts on two shows a year in the Galliano name, with no current connection to the designer whatsoever. Fashion loves its musical chairs, but its contestants rarely end up showing in the same city only three days apart. For Galliano, however, hiding behind the Margiela mask for a little bit longer might provide a kind of safe haven for this out-of-this-world talent, before he once again enters the battlefield as the magnificent warlord he is. Welcome back, sir.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Sean Ellis [From i-D No. 199, The Heartbeat Issue, July 2000]