Was there anyone who wasn’t moved by John Galliano’s haute couture spectacle for Maison Margiela? It doesn’t seem like it, from the zeal that has coloured every review, TikTok video, Instagram story and tweet on the fashion show since it closed the Spring/Summer 2024 season of Paris Couture Week. How rare of the fashion world to finally agree on something. But that seemed to be the effect of Galliano’s Maison Margiela Artisanal 2024 fashion show: it brought people together.
The British designer gathered his guests under the Pont Alexandre III bridge in Paris on the night of a full moon, putting them side by side in a shadowy dive bar. It was a setting that promised drama, something that was sorely missing from the couture shows before his. And Galliano delivered, entertaining the audience with a film, a live music performance, and finally, a Fashion Show.
If you have religiously watched and rewatched videos of Galliano’s theatrical presentations for Givenchy and Dior, where models transformed into actors, then you would know that the capital letters are warranted. At the Maison Margiela show, models played the intriguing night-walkers seen in Brassaï’s photographs of Paris’s underbelly: some shivered in coats crafted from layers of organza and chiffon, while others sashayed in sheer dresses and skirts that revealed seductive curves and shocking merkins (look it up).
Bodies were a big deal. Galliano played up proportions through padded suits and corset after corset, lacing up not just the women but also the men who walked for his show. Those corsets were months in the making, and the models, whom Galliano calls his “muses”, made multiple visits to the Maison Margiela atelier to be fitted and trained to wear them.
But that’s not all that the Margiela muses trained for: they also worked with Pat Boguslawski, the choreographer and movement director who taught them to bring Brassaï’s’s characters, and by extension, Galliano’s designs, to life. The most haunting result of Boguslawski’s classes were the eerie, doll-like movements with which the models, including actress Gwendoline Christie, made their way through the front row.
Their performance was just one of many collaborations on which Galliano’s ghost of Paris was built. The designer also roped in make-up artist Pat McGrath, his longtime collaborator, to make his muses look the part of porcelain dolls, glassy skin and all. Theories have emerged on TikTok on the beauty products that McGrath may have used to achieve the artistic feat, but they don’t account for the sheer magic that is sparked by Galliano and McGrath working together, as seen in so many fashion shows and editorials of years past.
Another fashion giant that Galliano brought on board his grand fashion production was Christian Louboutin. “John and I met about 40 years ago when he first moved to Paris,” said Louboutin in a statement. “Working with someone you love and respect was really the nice part of the collaboration.”
The French designer created the red-soled shoes that models performed in, including the split-toe Tabi pumps made to look like actual horse hooves. But more interesting were the “Faux-Cul” pumps, which distorted the body just as Galliano’s designs did. These shoes came with rounded heel counters, inspired by the padded bustles that French women wore in the 19th century to accentuate their bums. Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner flaunted bespoke styles on the front row.
Since his Maison Margiela fashion show, there has been much talk of Galliano’s genius. Rightly so: in the year that he spent conceiving and crafting his collection, the designer invented a wealth of complex construct techniques that reminded the fashion industry of the raison d’être of haute couture.
And yet, despite the applause and stomps and cheers that erupted at the end of his presentation, Galliano did not take his bow. At a high point of his 35-year career, he chose to shun the spotlight, just as his predecessor Martin Margiela did—and perhaps for the same reason. Margiela saw himself not as the face of his fashion brand but as a part of a collective that built Maison Martin Margiela. Galliano’s latest collection is proof that that same collaborative spirit lives on in Maison Margiela. In an interview with Business of Fashion, he credits the talents of his design team—not his vision, or his genius—for their triumphant Artisanal 2024 collection. And that collection has now inspired a sense of community among fashion fans who have long felt that the industry has become, as André Leon Talley famously put it, “a famine of beauty”.