There was often poetry in Martin Margiela’s ability to infuse new life into the overlooked, the discarded, the scorned. It was even more distinctive in his label’s Artisanal offshoot, where the provenance of all the vintage bits and pieces that went into the collection made fascinating reading. With the clarity of hindsight in the wake of his own debut for Artisanal today, it seems odd that anyone could ever have doubted that John Galliano wasn’t a dream choice for Margiela. This most arcane of fashion houses called for an alchemist as much as a designer, and with Galliano, that’s exactly what it got.
There was enough beauty to satisfy the most extravagant aesthete in Galliano’s fan base, but there was also an edge of the grotesque, which was true to Artisanal’s wayward spirit. The masks that Kanye West wore onstage were revisited here in the stunning final outfit, with the model sporting a gilded skull-like face-hugger split in two by a rictus of pearls, and an infanta-like protuberance of glittering detritus swelling from her chest. Other outfits were swagged, ragged, and rehabilitated—stockings with the knees out, asymmetric tails on jackets—like a cross-pollination between the closets of Miss Havisham and a club kid.
It would be interesting to know what, if anything, Galliano felt he had to prove with this collection. Deconstruction was always one of Margiela’s central precepts, and Galliano proved himself more than a match with his own efforts, especially with a postscript that saw the models parading by in pinned-together toiles, a revelatory way to illuminate the creative processes behind the collection. Minimalism was another Margiela signature, Galliano again proving his mastery with an androgynous black suit and a ravishing series of simple red gowns. The Mao-collared one, in velvet, swooped daringly low in the back. Some fearless starlet could make her name in such a dress during awards season.
Humor often bubbled under a Margiela collection, with unlikely found elements—the residue of human civilization—brought in to add some wit or dimensionality. Here, Galliano trailed toy cars across the collaged landscape of a tiny suede sheath. He used shells to make three-dimensional Arcimboldo-like faces on the front of dresses. He even referenced the house’s flashy showgirl side, with leopard-print accents and metal fringing on short shorts.
Such incongruity was a tool for Margiela because it provoked new ways to look at the familiar. To be reminded of that here was further proof that Galliano has indeed found a new home. There was none of the old grandstanding when he took a tentative blink-and-you-missed-it bow in the white coat that is the uniform of the Margiela atelier, but the show itself spoke to no diminution in his talent. He’s back, everyone cried at show’s end, palpable excitement overwhelming the sense of relief.