Menswear is one of the most exciting areas in fashion right now. Even designers like Dries Van Noten agree, and it seems that John Galliano is catching onto that and making full and complete use of the times to launch his – and the house's – first Artisanal collection for men.
The Artisanal collections, a circled zero on the label in Margiela terms, have quite famously been the grounds for the house's most conceptual and experimental pieces. Martin Margiela originally approached it with the appropriation and reinvention of found and used garments – turning old clothes into exciting new iterations. Deconstruction at its finest, as it were. In more contemporary memory, Matthieu Blazy's take on the collections were equally conceptual, albeit with a more hi-fi glamour sensibility. Then there is Galliano, who has used this medium as an expression of his most daring propositions. If ever there were a designer who understood the pyramidal method of distilling wearable ideas from conceptual haute couture, he would be the man.
This season, the house has collaborated with American artist Tony Matelli to exhibit and showcase a series of fascinating sculptures at the show venue in the house's atelier. (As an aside, sculpture seems to be having a real resurgence as a fashionable art form.) These broken forms twist Greek and Roman classicism with a witty smattering of fruits on them. Yet if you were thinking this to be a dialectical metaphor for the organic vs inorganic, you might be tickled to know these fruits are painstakingly painted bronze-cast statues themselves, coloured to look like the real things.
That, alongside the red cellophane backdrops, served to set the scene for this incredible presentation. The idea, perhaps, was a daring proposal to truly reinvent. A lot has been said about the modern revolution of masculinity (thank you, feminism) and the fruitful new terms that allow it to expand beyond toxicity and into the feminine. Duality as strength, femininity as an equal and desirable trait in men.
Galliano took to it through the classic tailoring codes of menswear, twisting them up with his mastery of fabrics and cut. 'Hard' fabrics like English tweed was cut on the bias, to attain what the designer dubs a 'liquid' and 'mercurial' effect – the kind of sensuality that he used to make women dream of. If you need a perfect example of the gently clinging and movable slide of the bias cut, one only has to look to Galliano's seminal 1994 runway show at Sao Schlumberger's hotel particulier in Paris. The sensual – not sexual, and this is an important distinction – movement of this cut emphasises the human form beneath the fabric, playing up the best of its curves and lines. And why should men be exempt from this method of cutting and be left with straight-grain fabrics?
As for the rest of the show, the ideas were aplenty. The kinetic appeal of a careless shrug, transferred to moulded shoulder pads on coats made to look like capes. Humphrey Bogart was an inspiration for Galliano, who took the throw-on ease of Bogart and ran with it, bestowing his coats with a crombie silhouette. There was corsetry too, which though antiquated for women, was a startling jolt as a clear statement of the free interchangeability of gender codes. It makes one thankful for the times we live in – a time in which gay marriage is a reality in parts of the world, and in which LBGTQIA communities can celebrate progress – though there is always more to be made for equality.
Most importantly, this was a hopeful signal that menswear might be ready to move beyond the restraints of its own traditions. Few designers have managed to push the boundaries of this part of fashion. I can name perhaps Rick Owens and Thom Browne as working present-day designers who do the unexpected and do it truly well. Now that Galliano has presented this Artisanal haute couture menswear collection, I can confidently name three. And you know what they say: if two's a coincidence, three must surely be a trend.