Suzy Menkes at Couture: Day Four
Galliano’s Cross-Pollination at Maison Margiela
It seemed like back to the beginning at Maison Margiela, where John Galliano’s ‘Artisanal’ collection suggested the work of a penniless but ingenious artist who uses found objects as his tools of creation.
Of course, taking a humble sack, decorating and draping it into a painted haute couture coat is not so new to the designer, who famously introduced the French word “clochard” – a hobo or beggar – into the vocabulary of couture while he was at Christian Dior.
And the concept of recycling is integral to the history of his current brand, and its founder Martin Margiela.
So in one way it was refreshing to see Galliano exchange formerly lavish sets for a long plain background, just as he had done for his first comeback collection in January this year – which was shown in London, not Paris.
Yet starting over is not easy, under the cruel spotlight of fashion, where a wedding dress wrapped in sausages of white, serving as make-do ruffles, looked like something from a university student’s final show.
I wondered what message, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”, which played repeatedly, was supposed to send? That Galliano was not shouting his return, but letting the message percolate slowly? Yet the clothes and the makeup, which included bruise-like smudges on the face or dark stains from hair to cheek, were not signs of a shrinking violet.
Programme notes talked about “cross pollination… divining an accidental and unconscious glamour”. The notes also defined the impenetrable fabrics as “swathes of Chinese mud silk meet British tweed”, and “Madagascan raffia” which “adorns painted neoprene”.
It is tough to think of this collection as Maison Margiela, rather than a series of Galliano’s personal fashion statements. Some of which were striking and wearable, especially a skirt of patchwork crochet squares, topped by a neat black jacket.
Big coats were bold and beautiful, including one with a gathered back, which held a Yves Klein blue satin attachment like a sculpted backpack.
Even ignoring the peculiarity of shoes with Perspex wings at the heel, there were many ideas from Galliano’s still fertile mind that could be transferred into more wearable ready-to-wear.
But the Margiela show, on the final day of a truncated Paris couture season, got to the heart of the matter. What is haute couture in the twenty-first century? Is it still the ‘laboratory of ideas’ that became a cliché for over-exaggerated outfits designed to attract photographers in a classic, client-led collection?
It is apparently not difficult to find people who can spend time and money on high fashion. The addition to the season of Fendi Furs, designed by Karl Lagerfeld, and of Valentino and Dolce & Gabbana, who are showing in Italy, proves that there are plenty of big spenders.
I would like to think that an imaginative client will pick up some of the finest Margiela ‘Artisanal’ pieces and work closely with John, as couture should allow.
Elie Saab: Go For Gold!
Glittering dresses, golden coronets, gilded bags – Elie Saab went for gold in a big way for his winter haute couture collection.
In fact, the only thing larger than the spun-gold metallic surfaces were dresses whose vast flower-patterned skirts spread like giant petals.
I can see the allure of Elie Saab’s work to a woman looking for a special-occasion outfit. There was no pretense this time around that the designer I think of as the ‘Fashion King of Byzantium’ would attempt to create couture for all seasons and all reasons.
In fact, he gave daywear a miss, no doubt leaving it for his ready-to-wear collection, whilst making his couture an orgy of opulence, albeit tempered by some more sober dresses in deep claret.
Richness was on a delicate scale with all the sequined handwork. And there was a feeling of sweet youth from the girls with tiny waists and long hair – each crowned with a headpiece that resembled more a Grecian laurel wreath than a royal tiara. Low-heeled sandals added to that elixir-of-youth feeling.
In his programme notes, the designer claimed that the inspiration was his early collections, from back in the 1990s.
Making the show truly personal, the wedding dress, with its golden embellishments, was inspired by Elie’s marriage 25 years ago to his wife Claudine. It was a charming gesture – and proof that sumptuous classics (and romance) never go out of fashion.
Viktor & Rolf: Hanging in the Balance
Is fashion art? This question has been asked many times over the last half century.
The question usually means: are these clothes too tricksy to wear?
But what about fashion as art: something that looks as good – maybe even better – on the wall as on the body? An object with the intention to be identified both as art and as fashion?
Viktor & Rolf offered an answer with their couture show, where the models walked the runway draped in cloth, as if it were canvas that had been removed from gilded frames.
“We really want to focus on couture,” said the duo, explaining how every piece of each outfit was made of cloth and was therefore wearable.
On the runway, the models wore simple white cotton draped and shaped, splashed with arty blobs or painted more delicately with faces. There were gilded frames around necks and wrists, like abstracted collars or sleeves. These were maybe uncomfortable to wear, but the models looked graceful.
The balance between art and fashion is a difficult one to strike. But this show had some beauty, a lot of charm and food for fashion thought.
Gaultier Sails Away
“Join the Navy” blared from the soundtrack as yet another model in horizontally striped hose and a flat boat-sail of a skirt marched down the runway.
Jean Paul Gaultier was up to his merry tricks: an over-arching theme – this time focused on Brittany, the salty city in Northern France – with plenty of the ship-shape nautical stripes that have long been a Gaultier signature.
The programme was decorated with the drawing of an anchor and then filled with plays on (mostly French) words. But wait a minute! These crazy, rollicking shows always used to be at JPG ready-to-wear, which has been discontinued by Puig, the Spanish fashion and fragrance business that owns JPG, so that the designer could focus on couture.
The couture collections, which started in 1997, were always relatively calm, in order to entice clients with elegant cuts and exceptional handwork. But it seems that you can’t keep this irrepressible and exuberant designer down. And that is the attraction for the more than 300,000 visitors who have already joined the two-hour minimum wait to get into the “Jean Paul Gaultier” exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris.
Since a similar exhibition, “From the Sidewalk to the Stars: The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier”started at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Canada in 2012, Gaultier is probably more of a fashion celebrity now than he has ever been. The exhibition toured the US, UK, Holland, Sweden, Spain, Australia, and now France, attracting some two million visitors.
But, as with so many collections over the years, I felt that Jean Paul was hiding his light under a bushel. Or, in this case, behind the flat, circular skirts inspired by traditional Breton aprons.
If you lifted your eyes away from the bizarrerie a-top the models’ heads; from the marine stripes; the vivid gilding; and all that “stuff”, there was Gaultier’s impeccable tailoring and his studio’s adroit workmanship.
Here is a designer whose skills are so refined that he can conjure a body suit or a double-breasted jacket as easily as a smocked lame dress.
But having studied Gaultier’s art and craft at the museum, as every visitor can, the couture show’s ample programme notes were still not enough to understand the skills behind the rumbustious presentation.
Gaultier at 63 is facing a moment of truth. Should he go on playing showman? Or should he let the clothes speak for themselves as magnificent examples of high fashion without the bells, whistles and ship sails?