Maison Margiela indulges in the joy of recycling for AW20
John Galliano's latest outing for the house saw taro leaves and charity shop finds metamorphosed into sustainably glamorous clothes.
Photography Mitchell Sams
“Reclica, Reclica, rech- lee- ca!” John Galliano cooed on his seasonal Maison Margiela podcast, which is fundamental fashion week listening. A portmanteau of ‘recycling’ and ‘replica’, the word is the designer’s own invention; his mot du jour for describing his newfound obsession with upcycling charity shop finds and deadstock materials into the most beautifully deconstructed trench coats and slip dresses. It was a continuation of his couture -- sorry, ‘Artisanal’ -- show last month, where he riffed on bourgeois clothes with a conscience, encouraging his team of Bright Young Things to truffle every thrift shop for hidden gems, and radicalising his approach to designing for a global brand in the process, quite literally. “It’s about the joy of recycling, and that we’ll be able to sell these pieces, the real thing handpicked by JG,” he explained.
Of course, Martin Margiela founded his label on ‘upcycling’, even if that word wasn’t in parlance back then. He and his team would source vintage items and slavishly re-create them, right down to the thread count and fabric. So it’s in the DNA of the house, and John has brought bang up to the minute. Instead of dystopian collaged clothes (and there’s a lot of them around at the moment) we got a jolly riot of colour (sorbet hues inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper) and witty, tongue-in-cheek nods to Huntin’-Shootin’-Fishin’ country garb (pussy bows, gentlemanly tweeds et. al.). Yes, we’ve seen bourgeois ‘chic maman’ clothes come back into vogue the last couple of seasons, but this was a fresh take. It felt more Gen Z than Great Grandmother. In the podcast, John talks about his seeing studio full of young students (or stagiaires, as they’re known chez Margiela) in fisherman sweaters, grey flannels and classically good-taste browny-beigey clothes. “You guys are meant to be the most cutting edge people in fashion and you’re dressing like the most conservative,” he told them, before adding: “That’s all that’s left to do, isn’t there!”
What’s old is new and what’s new is old. The glamour of historical glamour has always been a lodestar for John -- his shows for Givenchy and Dior in previous decades were veritable feasts of Veblen splendour and luxury, dipped in 24-karat nostalgia. But that was then. Today, he’s down with the kids and is more interested in sustainability than spectacle. His penchant for history is now countered by actual historical garments that he’s turning into treasure-forever clothes. “It’s a return to worth and slower fashion, all those things we believe in,” he said. “Invention with a conscience.” Most importantly, though, his show wasn’t just an empty display of environmental chic, it was full of actual commitments to the cause. Upcycled clothes and bags made from taro leaves (they’re vegan!) and deadstock leather will actually go into production, coming with labels that explain their unique provenance. Other pieces, like the wicker basket bags, are from the ‘30s through to the ‘70s and have been restored with both care and creativity.
That’s a radical act for a fashion house like Margiela, and a designer like John Galliano. But it’s testament to how the best visionaries evolve with the times. Plus ça change and all that. It’s what fashion should be built on: desire that is intrinsic to design, not in spite of it. So when old things look this revolutionary -- and glamorous, for that matter -- it makes you realise that Galliano isn’t just a great designer -- he’s pure genius.
Photography Mitchell Sams