“There can’t be any poetry without death!” John Galliano cheerily yelled out Jean Cocteau’s words when he discovered some glitchs, which he sees as a beautify “decay”, on the digital image that Nick Night made him for the Artisanal A/W 2020 collection of Maison Margiela.
Throughout his oeuvre, from the 1984 debut collection inspired by French Revolution to his genuflected Dior years, Galliano is known for his unbridled creative energy with inspirations spanning various historical periods and different culture, his fashion is often described as “otherworldly” and himself “certainly from another time”.
However otherworldly John Galliano might be, the disruptive pandemic brought him right back to the bona fide annus horribilis of 2020. Under the lockdown confinement, he admitted, there was a moment of panic and anguish, but that soon replaced by a surge of hungriness for beauty and self-expression. That redux vigour of creation gave birth to S.W.A.L.K (abbreviation for Sealed with a Loving Kiss) and S.W.A.L.K. II – the two-part experimental fashion film replacing traditional catwalk shows to present his new collections. “I thought it would be a wonderful time to reinforce the ethics of Maison Margiela, of everything we stand for and to record it in some way that would appeal to Gen Y & Z”, said Galliano.
It is perhaps the first couture filmed by GoPros, drones and computer cameras in fashion history. The director Nick Knight believes this way coordinate with “the way people lives the moment” and “fits into the zeitgeist”. As Knight puts it, “you don’t have to be in a church to appreciate Michelangelo.” Through S.W.A.L.K, people not only get the chance to see Michelangelo’s work but also looking him painting! With GoPros worn on John Galliano’s head and chest, and on the creative team, models, and even dogs, the film shows Galliano’s creation process transparently including his references and the things going on in the atelier, the openness is unprecedented, especially for a house like Maison Margiela.
While S.W.A.L.K. illustrates the creation process of the Autumn-Winter 2020 Artisanal collection (“Artisanal” represents haute couture in Maison Margiela), S.W.A.L.K II is about the Spring-Summer 2021Co-Ed collection (“Co-Ed” represents the ready-to-wear in Maison Margiela), which is influenced by the Artisanal collection.
Artisanal Wet Look
“This is about the highest form of dress-making.”
From Tabi sandals influenced by Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun to the Wet Look inspired by the veiled faces & intricate drapes on classical marble statues, Galliano’s sources of inspirations are disclosed all at once in the film.
“It’s authentic, young kids who are going to be my clients in five years’ time, they want to know that it’s coming from a source of creation,” said Galliano.
For the wet look, Galliano is also referencing to his past work, the Spring/Summer 1986 collection entitled “Fallen Angels” of his namesake label. In the finale of that show, he doused models in muslin dress with water to create a wet look. “That was spontaneous”, Galliano commented. However, this time, he decided to achieve the wet look in another approach: “with all the knowledge that I’ve learned, with the team, we are trying to create that without water.” Galliano was emphatic that the technical challenge is necessary: “That’s the art, it’s the highest form of dress-making!” While using water is simply “far too easy”.
“What I show there is an invitation… Modern couture today is more than just dressing the elite, what it does is it fuels the house… to show what we are capable of.”
“It’s a Recicla Moment.”
On his first collection at Maison Margiela, Galliano told Alexandra Schulman, the ex-Editor of British Vogue, “Although one must respect the DNA of the house & the heritage, I didn’t want to become a slave to it, which is what happened at Dior… I kind of wanted to move on as well”. Galliano’s Maison Margiela is “inspired by Martin” but “not taken from one of his.”
So, we see the birth of Recicla earlier this year. First launched in the “Defilé” Co-ed collection A/W 2020, Recicla expands on Martin Margiela’s Replica concept, it’s John Galliano’s way of moving-on. Different from Replica’s “slavishly” reproducing the original pieces, Recicla focuses on recycling, reforming, repurposing, and ultimately upcycling.
Devoted house fans are likely to be familiar with the Replica line. First started at the Fall 1994 collection, Replica is an exact copy or reproduction of vintage pieces from various regions and periods. “Authenticity is more and more important – instead of imitating originals, I decided to make complete reproductions,” Martin Margiela explained to Suzy Menkes about the Replica concept in an old interview. For the selected garments, every tailoring details from the fabric to the shape would be “religiously copied to create a near-identical version of the original, which suggests a sense of timelessness that is essential to Maison Margiela philosophy,” said Galliano.
Comparatively, Recicla (recycle in Spanish) is a label given to carefully selected authentic vintage pieces that are reformed and re-appropriated into commercial lines.
Recicla is a conscious statement of sustainability by JG’s Maison Margiela. The use of charity shop finds, old stocks and offcuts are ethical and anti-waste, and before been chosen, all the vintage pieces have gone through a strict scientific test in the lab to make sure they have no harm to the skin. “There’s no longer need to rely on old marketing and merchandising strategies,” Galliano addressed, “instead, Recicla can be used as an inspiration for a new way of selling tailor-made to local markets.”
An emotional process
Galliano is fascinated by the charity shop finds and old costumes as they come imbued with the emotion of the wearer: “you have the crease marks or he grew into it so you have the stress on the back of the sleeve or something, they wore these clothes for many years that their character is imbued.” The flaws on the vintage garments are beautiful characters in Galliano’s eye, and he kept those details in the reforming process.
“I like the defaults that I find in these clothes, … and I imagine who would have worn them, …for sure it starts the story… and sometimes the defaults could lead to a whole new way of cutting, or exploring – a slip lining, a collar that’s half hanging off…”
The idea that clothes adapt to personality after been worn underlings the Recicla process. In one of the scenes in the film, when Kenji ripping the seam open on a vintage jacket’s shoulder to create a new shape, you hear a sign released from the garment.
The film has a narrative of a thriller weaved into the fashion narrative simultaneously. Based on the idea that clothes are imbued with the memories and spirits of the wearer, the horror narrative is created by horror story writer Kier-La Janisse. “I’d rather like the grammar of thriller to punctuate the story because I thought that could make it more appealing”, said Galliano.
Blitz Kids / The New Romance Movement
Recicla comes into shape from an exploring exercise of the creative team to play with the charity shop finds. The experimenting spirit of Recicla is “the grammar of those young kids today,” said Galliano, who made reference to his younger days as a member of the Blitz Kids and the New Romantics in the early ’80s: “Blitz was a place to release it, the suppression political and social environment, it was the most hedonistic place and the looks were just phenomenal, I mean, I hadn’t become the J.G. we know today, I was kind of leaning and taking it all in.”
Someone once said, “If Punk was all about rebellion, the New Romantics are all about style.”
It’s impossible to overestimate the creative ferment of London of the early 1980s. Leading by figures like Steve Strange, Boy George, and Steven Lenard, the New Romantic movement begins with nigh clubs including Billy’s, Hell, and Blitz. The attendees contain a mixture of glamorously and surrealistically dressed young art students, band members, fashion designers, musicians, and those with routine jobs who want to escape the banality of daily life through dressing up in extravagant costumes. If the club night happens on Tuesday, the young kids would already be preparing their look on Sunday -“lived for that dress, live for that evening” is the spirit shared among the cult.
The name Blitz Kids refer to a group of narcissistic and talented young people who would go to the Blitz club, which was a Tuesday club-night in Covent Garden organised by Steve Strange and Rusty Egan. As Steve Strange noted, “it started out basically from a club and progressing into, I hate to call it, a ‘movement’, moving into a whole style of people self-expression… the whole idea is about complete change, all the time, moving on, with the music, with the clothes, with the styles…”
Dressing authentically is the holy grail to pass the door of the Blitz’s. Famous for its strict dress code, Steve Strange would be standing by the door to examine everyone’s look and decide if they are original enough to be allowed in. As Princess Julia remembered: “My whole idea of dressing is dress fancy, not fancy dress.” The Blitz kids are hedonistic, fearless when it comes to style. they wear theatrical costumes, androgynous makeups and put any fancy things they want on themselves – They became their own art object.
In the film, Galliano mentioned the Blitz kids build their looks with the dead stocks of Charles Fox, a costumier in Covent Garden that closed in the early 80s: “They were just dumping stuff outside the shop, and everyone whizzed down there to find whatever they could find,” Princess Julia remembered, “The whole thing was quite a sort of melting pot of experimentation, not only with the looks you could do, because there weren’t any rules, there wasn’t a standard look.” In order to create an authentic style, one doesn’t need a big budget, as a lot of fashion back then is about customising second-hand cloth and modify it to form a new look. (Yeah, that spirit is about Recicla, but back then it was more out of necessity rather than sustainability). On the contrary, wearing off the rack luxury labels can be a taboo for the New Romantics: “It was not about being fashionable, that would be a kiss of death,” said Stephen Jones, the legendary milliner who collaborated with Galliano in many of his collections. So with more creativity than cash, the Blitz Kids were expressing themselves through clothes, music, and magazines(e.g.: i-D, The Face, Blitz).
“That energy was something I wanted to tap into. ” Under the lockdown in the pandemic, Galliano felt that Blitz kids energy is relevant again: “When you suppress it, it has to explode, when you are back up against the wall…you become most creative.”