"Tout Est Pardonné" (All Is Forgiven) states the title of the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo's magazine (published today), the first to come out after the dramatic events that happened last week in Paris.
If it had come out on Monday, it would have been a very apt slogan for John Galliano.
The designer was appointed to the helm of Maison Margiela last October.
On Monday afternoon he showcased the maison's Spring/Summer 2015 Artisanal Couture collection in London.
The event marked his return to the fashion stage after his fall from grace.
Galliano's anti-Semitic remarks pronounced in 2011 in a bar in Paris caused his dismissal from Christian Dior.
Found guilty of "public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity", Galliano went into rehab and disappeared from the fashion scene until his brief residency in January 2013 at Oscar de la Renta's studio, a role that led to many speculations about the designer being given a second chance in fashion.
For a tragic coincidence, the funerals of the four Jewish victims of last week's attack at the kosher supermarket in Paris took place in Israel the morning after Galliano for Margiela's show, something that nobody in the fashion industry mentioned, just to avoid spoiling the magic and the aura of rehab now hanging around the designer.
Exclusively reserved to a selected audience comprising important editors (including long-term supporter Anna Wintour), designers, photographers, stylists (Nicola Formichetti, Diesel's current creative director; Diesel and Maison Martin Margiela are both owned by Renzo Rosso's holding company Only the Brave; Rosso controls Margiela via a subsidiary called Neuf), and celebrity friends (Kate Moss), the show took place in a new office block not far from Buckingham Palace. The architectural location marked the new beginnings of the business, while re-affirming a solid link with Galliano's fan base and origins.
The show wasn't actually just "a tale of two cities" – Paris being the usual location for Margiela's shows and the last place where Galliano presented his creations for Dior Vs London as the starting place for Galliano and as the place of his rebirth, away from the Parisian hype that surrounded him – but a tale of two designers. The collection mixed indeed Galliano's romantically ebullient vision with Margiela's codes.
The collection was therefore a mix of two semantic fields: Galliano's dreamily romance and drama, and those theatrical moments à La Casati were still there, combined with Margiela's clear lines.
The former appeared in the cascades of decadent fabrics and hats, in the jackets and the fringed hot pants, in the bodysuits and in a vivid red coat with matching latex tights; the latter triumphed towards the end via floor-length column red gowns (one with a low cut back) donned by models with hairstyles borrowed from the Fayum portraits and in the oversized black tuxedo suits. The dichotomy appeared also on the vertically striped legs with the colours continuing to divide on the heels.
Margiela couture's upcycling message was clear in the objet trouvés incorporated in the designs, in the toy cars and trains integrated in the opening jacket, the lacquered toy soldiers climbing on a long coat, in the safety pins patching together tulle, yarn and organza to form a fragile red gown and in the lacquered seashells employed as buttons or forming Surreal faces.
The latter were three-dimensional interpretations of Margiela's masks combinations of Irving Penn's photographs of models covered in Fauchon candied fruit, vegetables, milk and jewels, with visions borrowed from the paintings of Giuseppe Arcimboldo.
The last model with a skeleton face embroidered on a veil with pearly teeth (that subverted the Shakesperean "Those are pearls that were his eyes" into a "Those are pearls that were her teeth") and a dress with a breastplate covered in fragments of jewels looked like a glamorously sombre revisitation of the fashion and death dichotomy filtered through the images collected by art historian and photographer Paul Koudounaris in the volume Heavenly Bodies (a reference that actually resurfaced last year in another collection) or maybe we're reading too much in depth and these are just Galliano's demons haunting him.
Construction was followed by deconstruction as the models paraded in pinned-together toiles to show the process, trials and errors, behind the collection.
Though the craziest moments in this collection were part of Galliano's early DNA, almost a revisitation of his fascination with the 1790s Incroyables, no huge excess was allowed. Galliano came out at the very end not for a bombastic appearance in one of his flamboyantly themed costumes, but looked like a ghost, clad in the house's signature lab coat.
Galliano is the proof that an artist can go through confusingly chaotic times without losing his or her talent. But the truth is that this collection suffers from the "Zanini at Schiap syndrome" (responsible for Zanini's dismissal from Schiaparelli after just two collections...): it ticks all the proper boxes, but doesn't add anything to the maison or to Galliano, and therefore is not going anywhere, like a vessel with a captain but with no destination.
The problem in the Galliano story is not to find out if he has still got talent (because he has talent and experience and he knows his art references) or how lucid he is after rehab, the problem is the fashion industry surrounding him. There seems to be now a tacit agreement among journalists, critics and editors to avoid saying anything bad about him (let's face it, if it hadn't been "Galliano for Margiela", this would have been a much less trumpeted collection).
They could have said this was just a cold exercise in proving Galliano can adapt to Margiela's house; they could have said Galliano came up with a collection that went well with the Margiela Artisanal ethos and pleased Renzo Rosso, but was at times incoherent and fractured. They didn't. The words of encouragement, approval and sense of wonder and marvel included in some of the reviews could have been taken from the opening to Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo? (remember? "You don't just create, you galvanise!") as they reveal the ridiculous and hypocritical attitude of the fashion media.
And that's where you discover the difference between satire and fashion media: Charlie Hebdo's "Everything is Forgiven" cover is a a bitter satire and hides deeper meanings since it implicitly states that nothing has changed and that the team behind the magazine will get on doing what they have done so far. Galliano is definitely not a terrorist, but the fashion media are not defending him for reasons linked to freedom of expression/freedom of creativity. Fashion forgives whenever and because money (a lot of it) is involved. Galliano represents money and can still work as a money making machine, therefore the fashion industry is ready to forgive him.
While this showcase was a warm up as the Artisanal Spring/Summer 2015 collection is also to be presented by appointment during Paris Couture Week (Jan. 25 to 31) and more will follow as Galliano prepares to Paris Fashion Week (March 3 to 11), for the time being, "Tout Est Pardonné", after all who wants to risk losing the advertising money of the companies part of Renzo Rosso's OTB group?
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