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Bridget Foley’s Diary: John Galliano’s New Codes

John Galliano

It seems a lifetime ago (mid-Nineties) that revolutionized the haute world with his sweeping imagination and couturier’s brilliance. His glorious bias cuts (among other wonders) shocked and mesmerized a luxe landscape still a little stuck in those unfortunate Eighties. Now, Galliano is going rogue again. On Friday, he will show his first full Artisanal Men’s collection. For the uninitiated, “Artisanal” is Margiela-speak for couture. At a time with so much emphasis on street, the idea, Galliano said, “exhilarated me and focused me to really try and do what I can do best.”

Galliano has long believed in couture as an experimental theater, and that holds for his foray into men’s. Chief executive officer Riccardo Bellini fully endorses the direction, calling Artisanal “a laboratory of craftsmanship and unlimited creativity.” A full collection for men, Bellini said, “is a natural next step in our quest of brand elevation that will align both men’s wear and women’s wear under the creative direction of John Galliano.”

At the core of this collection, dubbed “seasonless” rather than “spring”: the bias cut, which Galliano applies to tailoring for day and evening. On the body, it feels, he said, “liquid, mercurial…liberating.” He noted, too, that perfecting the clothes proved challenging, particularly when working with classic British tweeds. This season will mark the launch of an off-the-runway initiative as well. On Friday, corresponding with the start of the show, the brand will inaugurate a podcast on iTunes and Spotify. Titled “The Memory of…With John Galliano,” and developed by KCD Digital, it will feature the designer discussing the themes and thoughts behind the show.

Yet working through craft and tech innovations are not the only challenges Galliano faces these days. In a conversation with WWD, he talked about amped-up competition on the men’s front, which he finds “exhilarating”; the power of street; negotiating seismic cultural changes, from how we shop to gender identity, and what he’s learning from younger generations. And oh, yes, why, through it all, this is a great time to be creative.

John Galliano: I’m very excited right now.
WWD: Tell me about it.
J.G.: I’m in the throes of doing the final fittings for Artisanal Men’s, which is an exciting time, seeing the collection come together, being hands-on in the atelier, it’s just wonderful.

WWD: Hands-on?
J.G.: You know, coaxing fabric to create the shapes that we would like. It’s such a hands-on relationship with the fabric. And to have the time to do that is the real thing — it’s Artisanal Men’s.

Galliano first showed a bias-cut men’s suit for Maison Margiela for fall 2018.Galliano first showed a bias-cut men’s suit for Maison Margiela for fall 2018.

Galliano first showed a bias-cut men’s suit for Maison Margiela for fall 2018.

WWD: What made you decide to make this men’s collection fully Artisanal? The last time you had some Artisanal items, right?
J.G.: Yeah, there were a couple [in the last collection]. I had been thinking to put [a greater] spotlight on Artisanal. And then with the changing landscape of men’s wear and what’s going on out there, that [idea] kind of exhilarated me and focused me to really try and do what I can do best. And that helped me to focus more on the bias cuts. For me with Virgil [Abloh, at Louis Vuitton], Hedi [Slimane, at Céline], all the boys back in town, it’s a really exciting time. And I have to be honest with you, it’s kind of got me quite excited.

WWD: Why?
J.G.: I think there is so much to say in men’s wear, and you’ve got some of the top team players out there in new positions. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they do and how they do it. But at Maison Margiela, I decided to just highlight Artisanal for men this season. It’s just something I’ve wanted to explore for some time so I thought, well, I would do that.
I mean, I have worked it so that there’s a complete ready-to-wear collection, of course. What I’ve done is I’ve pulled some key silhouettes and expressed them in an Artisanal way. So when you come to the showroom to buy the rtw, you’ll have seen some silhouettes and shapes and a direction in the Artisanal. The actual showing of that part of the collection, I will do it with the women’s wear in September.

WWD: A coed show in September?
J.G.: That’s right. It just seems the right thing, the modern thing to do. It just seems very natural. And after much discussion with our retail outlets, everyone was very excited that I would be doing that.

WWD: Interesting!
J.G.: Yes. I think it’s time for Maison Margiela. Now everyone’s in agreement. So we’re going for it. It’s a really exciting shift of gears that will affect retail — how we sell it, how it’s bought, and it’s just a really exciting time. Through this Artisanal Men’s, I have been questioning myself, and I’ve been trying to redefine what it means to be masculine today. What does it mean, challenging the norms or preordained names? So it’s quite exciting.

WWD: A provocative question. What does it mean to be masculine today?
J.G.: This is the challenge of men’s wear today — what does it mean?…With my team, I’m surrounded by these [younger] generations. For them, gay marriage is a historical event, the abolition of abortions in Ireland is history. It’s a completely different mind-set…it’s just being in touch with that kind of energy that enthralls me. It really does.

WWD: You posed the question about what it means to be masculine today. Is that a word that resonates today?
J.G.: It’s femininity as well! I think we’re all questioning what is femininity today, what is masculinity? Well, define your own femininity, and please, define your own masculinity today.

WWD: You are renowned for your glorious celebrations of femininity. When each person gets to define his or her own femininity or masculinity, if in fact the person chooses to identify with either, how do you as a designer negotiate all of that?
J.G.: I am trying to navigate that. I am dealing with it. That’s what inspires me. It’s like, what is sexy today? What’s a sexy man? What’s a sexy woman? Well, it’s certainly not the notions that my generation had. And I’m just trying to understand it. I’ve never felt so alive.

WWD: A compelling topic. What’s feminine? What’s masculine? How do we define ourselves? For you as a designer, how do you help us define ourselves?
J.G.: I’m being honest. It’s the process I’m going through myself. [We’re conditioned to say] men’s wear and women’s wear, but we need to redefine what that means today for all of us, especially with the younger generation and the way they shop, [which] is an inspiration that will influence and inspire.
I went to one shop in SoHo with Alexis [Roche, Galliano’s partner]. It was very creative, both men’s and women’s, but put it together in a completely genderless way. They had been refocused and so they had another appeal, which, for me to witness that, was really interesting.

Chic knows no gender. Maison Margiela Artisanal, spring 2018.Chic knows no gender. Maison Margiela Artisanal, spring 2018.

Chic knows no gender. Maison Margiela Artisanal, spring 2018.

WWD: Who is the Maison Margiela Artisanal Men’s customer?
J.G.: Again, that’s something that I’m beginning to define as we go along. It’s someone who is in search of authenticity, appreciation for craftsmanship, but a redefinition of what that means today. I think that as I explore the bias-cutting, it has an ease, it has a comfort, it has something that’s quite illustrative as a line. It’s kind of cool to wear.
[The customer] is someone who’s in search of something authentic, and that, I can express through the cut. I was so kind of overwhelmed with sportswear influences. It’s almost like it got to the point where sportswear could be entirely [a new] vintage. I thought, I’d love to explore Artisanal and let’s see if that helps me move or redefine or refocus a future for me in men’s.

WWD: Do you think street has gone as far as it’s going to go? Will the fascination wane?
J.G.: I think street will always be here. I think even you can see the influence of drop-offs and deliveries. And not just the look of street, but the actual very concept of how street retail works.
The almost monastic queue outside for , where there’s a religious lineup of like a thousand kids that moves around the block to get the latest drop-off, whether they’re buying it for themselves or not. [Some are] certainly selling it online three days later, still in the plastic, and they are creating the new vintage. I think that is going to have a huge effect on retail as we know it.
I think there will always be an influence from a creative point of view, for sure. It’s a luxury for me to kind of give it a spin now — what is luxury today? Not just how it looks, but how it makes you feel, how does it work for today’s clients? Entrepreneurs, the young entrepreneurs: That’s what we’re dealing with today. It’s no more aristocratic families.

WWD: You’re talking about a whole new customer base.
J.G.: The younger generation are the entrepreneurs of tomorrow and they have the money. And if I can hook them at an early stage through a wonderful investment buy, like a bias-cut suit, that is my future, Bridget, that is my future.

Early bias wonders by Galliano, from his eponymous collection, fall 1994.Early bias wonders by Galliano, from his eponymous collection, fall 1994.

Early bias wonders by Galliano, from his eponymous collection, fall 1994.

WWD: The bias cut — tailored clothing on the bias?
J.G.: Yes. There is [classic] tailoring, which is tailoring as we know it. And there are bias options. One bias day suit, one bias evening suit, [two] bias coats. It takes quite some time to choose these pieces. It’s a one-to-one relationship, [working] on the bias and I’m learning as I go along. I know a little bit about it, with the satin-backed crepe I had featured before. But then, cutting tweeds on the bias for day — well, that’s a whole different trip and it’s really exciting.

WWD: What is the advantage of cutting a men’s suit or coat on the bias?
J.G.: You mean to wear it? Because to produce it is quite a challenge. To wear it, it’s like liquid, mercurial. The satin-backed crepe is just one of the most sensual fabrics, how it reacts with the temperature of your body. It’s as easy as wearing no clothes. It’s that liberating.
I had a fitting three weeks ago for one of my first Artisanal men — I can’t say the name. We were doing the fitting and the body language was just so rewarding for me. I mean, I really didn’t need to ask any questions. I could see the way he was reacting, the way he was going for his pockets, the way he sat down, the way he crossed his legs. The guy felt really relaxed in it, and it was almost illustrative in line, very fluid, relaxed-looking, but still smart. Still chic. That’s the best way I can describe it. You don’t feel waistbands and you don’t feel canvas or a stiffness. It’s just like wearing a T-shirt. That’s the feeling.

WWD: That visual polish with the ease of the bias cut must be quite wonderful.
J.G.: I think it is. All my girlfriends have experienced it, but now to see some boys. The guys I’m doing the fittings on, they’re young dudes. I go, “How does it feel?” and they’re like, “I don’t feel anything, I don’t feel!” It’s a revelation to them, you know? It’s just so light. The feeling of a waistband or tailoring cutting into you is gone.

Early bias wonders by Galliano for Christian Dior Couture, spring 1998.Early bias wonders by Galliano for Christian Dior Couture, spring 1998.

Early bias wonders by Galliano for Christian Dior Couture, spring 1998.

WWD: The fabrics — you’re using satin-back crepe?
J.G.: I’ve produced a beautiful coat and a fabulous iteration of my evening suit. I have also tried to explore the bias cut for day through tweeds. I have used some English gentlemenlike fabrics — tweeds from the ’Shires.

WWD: Traditional country tweeds?
J.G.: Yes, yes from England. I’ve chosen some that have a check just to be able to express how divine that could look. From a visual point, you will see they turn into diamonds. So, there’s a rapport — the checks match on the lapel, on the pocket flap. It’s quite refined, it’s subtle. But when you wear those tweeds, it feels really comfortable. It still cuts quite a dashing silhouette. Chic.

WWD: You’ve talked about focusing on a younger customer. Do you think a traditional men’s customer will embrace this bias cut?
J.G.: I think they will as much as — I was in London a couple of weeks ago, and I went to Jermyn Street [site of traditional tony men’s wear shops] because I love it. I went into Floris [the family-owned British perfumer, established in 1730], and they invited me to the back of the store where they have those beautiful antique perfume bottles. And lo and behold, there was a guy in a white coat and he was able to mix perfumes for you. You know, he had all the ingredients in big bottles.
So, I went in there, sort of, OK, let’s try [to create something]. And he pulls out these huge bottles and started counting, 18 drops, nine drops of this, six of that. I was like, “This is amazing! Who comes in here for this?” And do you know what he said to me?

WWD: Do tell.
J.G.: Eighteen-year-olds. A young 18-year-old is searching for that authenticity. I was so blown away. Floris. Jermyn Street. I’m not plugging them. It was just amazing to see that. Fantastic. These stunning young clients.

WWD: How will you show the men’s?
J.G.: I’ve decided to have it in-house — I love the idea. It’s very visual, my working atelier. So, from a point of view of communication, I am able to show the truth, the verite. When it comes time to see the men’s wear, my team will be working on Artisanal Women’s in their white coats, so it is authentic. [The audience] will see a working atelier. I just think that’s divine.

WWD: Do you enjoy designing men’s wear as much as you enjoy designing for women?
J.G.: Yes, very much so. I mean, the act of creation, your process, is very, very similar. And today, the challenges are more exciting. The team I’m surrounded by, I have boys that are into the women’s fits and women that are into the boys’ fits. Things are changing now concerning fit and style, which is an exciting time. It’s affecting collection plans even. It makes us question what should be in that plan strategically and opens up a lot of creative areas to explore.

WWD: How have your men’s wear and your women’s wear each informed the other?
J.G.: The bias. I’ve only ever worked it for women, so it has informed the men’s wear in a great way. I mean, I keep saying “men’s” and “women’s,” and this is something that I think we have to address, as well. They have and they do inform each other. You know, in earlier days, I would have produced some pieces in smaller sizes to appeal to women. Now I think the appeal is in the collection and its availability to anyone.

WWD: Can you envision a time for yourself, no men’s, no women’s, only gender-fluid or genderless collections?
J.G.: I can see that happening. I think it will take me time. But I do see that happening just because of the way people are buying clothes today and how the [new] generations are redefining what it means to be masculine or feminine today. Of course, that was going to happen. As I mentioned earlier, there are some cool little shops in London now that are genderless, and the collections are bought in that way and they look really fresh.
You know, there’s no preordained — those old ideas — it’s just not part of their [younger people’s] vocabulary anymore, and I am fascinated to learn and be inspired by that. Because, you know, I’m young at heart, Bridget!

WWD: What about the mainstream customer of today? How do you attract that person?
J.G.: Well, I hope through authenticity. At the same time, it’s a bit like a juggling act, if you like. But I can’t lose sight of newness and the new client. These are the clients I’m trying to attract to Maison Margiela today.
As you know, as that generation gets older, they’re very loyal to certain brands, anyway. These young ones, they’re experiencing, they’re open to something new. And they’re questioning: What does Maison Margiela stand for, what are the ethics behind it? They want to know before they buy into it, and rightly so.

WWD: When those questions come up — what does it stand for, what are the ethics behind it — what is your answer?
J.G.: Authenticity. We’re honest. We’re striving to be more conscious in what we produce, how we produce it. It’s an ongoing thing, and I’m trying to be a lot more aware, ethical.

WWD: Let’s go back to the clothes. Do you think about newness? Is it possible to create quote/unquote “new” things today, innovative things? Does it matter?
J.G.: It’s not something that drives me. I do feel that the bias is an ongoing dialogue that continually inspires and teaches me because every fabric reacts differently. There’s no recipe — it’s an ongoing dialogue. And I think the idea of offering bias for men is quite new.

WWD: You care deeply about cultural context, but also about cut and fabric and craft. Talk about what you call your “personal relationship” with a fabric.
J.G.: Yes. Well, some fabrics will do what you want them to do and others will bring something completely new to the equation. Some fabrics are dry; some fabrics refract light. It’s like each fabric is alive. And having the time to work that closely with Artisanal Men’s is just so informative. To actually take the time to say, “This is the shoulder span I’m trying to achieve, this is how I want the dart to sink into this thick crepe, this is how I want the silhouette. I can achieve it with this fabric because it’s either forgiving or not forgiving, I can steam it, I can stretch it.” It’s got the hand on it, you know, and it’s such a joy. And we can’t let this art disappear. We can’t.

WWD: Is this a good moment to be a creative?
J.G.: Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! For me, yes!

WWD: Can’t get more affirmative than that. Thank you, John.

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