On paper, the appointment of John Galliano as the new Creative Director of Maison Martin Margiela is one of the most unlikely in fashion history. Margiela is the eponymous fashion house built by the elusive Belgian designer; an avant-garde reaction to the maximalist culture of the 1980s. With his unique brand of minimalism and label-less garments, the designer created a cult following based around anonymity and cultural iconoclasm. On the other hand, Galliano is a romancier as obsessed with excess as he seemingly is with his own public image, to the extent that his finale walk often garnered more column inches than the collections themselves. Unsurprisingly, the fashion world waited with bated breath to see the grand unveiling of Galliano's debut Artisanal showing for the house, so much so that the event even spawned its own hashtag, #MargielaMonday. So, the question remains; was it worth the wait?
Reactions tend to be divided strictly into two categories; those who love and those who hate. And I mean HATE. Comments so far have ranged from "this is not Margiela's vision" and "YOU RUINED Margiela" through to those who chose to drag up Galliano's history of alcoholism and anti-semitism. In short, these are the Margiela purists, the ones who believe that anything other than strict adherence to the minimalist Margiela codes is a crime against the house legacy. In a sense this reaction was inevitable - few houses have collated such a die-hard group of followers, and in a sense Galliano is the antithesis of the concept upon which Margiela was founded.
On the other hand, things have been changing at Margiela ever since Mathieu Blazy was 'outed' as creative director by the legendary Suzy Menkes. For the first time, the veneer had cracked and the mist surrounding the elusive company had faded. The illusion had been shattered, and Blazy subsequently resigned; the principle of anonymity on which the house was founded had been ruined anyway. In this sense, the recruitment of Galliano - arguably the most famous man in modern fashion - was a stroke of genius, a move of rebellion in true Margiela spirit.
Even more defiantly, the show opened to the tune of Shirley Bassey's "Big Spender" - a far cry from the understated chic for which the house is known - as the first model faced the unenviable task of ushering in a new era. Dressed in a camel suede mini-dress and black-and-white tights, the look was the first indication that Galliano himself had stripped back his own aesthetic in homage to the house. Black appliqué on the dress traced the lines of the female form; perhaps a reference to the infamous 'semi-couture' camel dress from the 1997 Artisanal collection. Whilst the dress was Galliano in the sense that it traced the body (Galliano was a seductress at heart, famously claiming that 'fashion should make men want to fuck women'), it also hinted at research of house codes and a desire to at least follow some sort of visual blueprint.
In short, this collection was Galliano on his best behaviour. The references to previous collections were all present, whether it be via the infamous bejewelled masks or the use of denim. Although the silhouettes were dramatic and the embellishment was heavy (this is couture after all..) the collection appeared to be a conscious attempt on Galliano's behalf to pay respect to the legacy of Margiela and create a new aesthetic which feels like a progression as opposed to a departure. The iconic egomaniac even limited his post-show bow to a quick appearance in one of the house's trademark labcoats - as clear an indication as any that the house is in safe hands once more.