After a break of four, troubled years and following his exit from Dior in 2011, John Galliano returned to the catwalk this afternoon as artistic director of French fashion house, Maison Martin Margiela. In fact, the 'Martin' - which refers to the label's eponymous founder - has been dropped. That revered and famously elusive Belgian-born designer retired from fashion in 2009 and the team operated as a democratic and anonymous unit until Galliano's appointment was announced in October last year.
The Artisanal collection is normally a fixture on the Paris haute couture calendar, fashion's most rarefied schedule. On this one occasion, however, it was shown in London to an audience that was tiny by comparison. Galliano - who was born in Gibraltar - grew up and trained here. He is an alumnus of Central Saint Martins and has many friends in the British capital who were out in force to support him.
Of course, his years at Dior make Galliano among the most accomplished living couturiers. He knows, like few others, how to conceive, realize and fit one-off, entirely hand-crafted garments for the privileged few prepared to pay five and six figure sums for a single piece. And there were some beautiful examples of those here. Should madam require a strong-shouldered, masculine tuxedo she will not be disappointed. If she prefers her tailoring deconstructed that can be arranged too: jackets peeled away from bodies and draped around slender torsos in a way that Galliano mastered working under his own name in the 1980s. A delicate sheath of a gown exploding into ruffles here, an overblown cape folded into flowers there and a perfectly simple velvet column in deepest ruby will doubtless make an appearance on the Oscar red carpet before too long.
So far, so Galliano, although Margiela too was known for tailoring. The masked models the latter designer was always famous for were softened though – girls’ eyes were surrounded with a scattering of fairy-dust, their hair pulled back from their faces and gilded. The cloven-toed ‘tabi’ shoes were, equally, replaced by undulating, elevated platforms.
The show finale was a more direct reference to Margiela’s determinedly lo-fi aesthetic, however, and to his early, all-white collections in particular. And this was the moment that really sang: the aforementioned outfits came out a second time around in the form of working toiles. Crafted in white calico, muslin and even paper, complete with written instructions for the seamstresses to follow, they had all the unbridled romance of John Galliano’s hand, the technical prowess of the finest haute couture and the delicate humanity of Margiela’s understated and emotionally resonant oeuvre. Lovely.
We'll update this page with the catwalk images as soon as they arrive