What is fashion supposed to be anymore? That's all I could think about after scanning the photos from John Galliano's ready-to-wear debut at Maison Margiela. There were some incredible clothes in there: the velvet suiting, the wide-leg satin trousers, the trompe l'oeil tights. The presentation — with several models shamefully hunching down the runway — was powerful. This collection made it clear that fashion entrepreneur Renzo Rosso was onto something when he hired Galliano to take over the house. And surely, the fashion elite is thrilled to have him back.
But despite all that, there was also a frozen-in-time feeling about the show. Maybe it was the clown makeup, a longtime Galliano signature that still, after all these years, can cast a frightening, tragic feeling upon a collection. Or maybe it's that fashion is not the same place it was 27 years ago, when Galliano graduated from Central Saint Martins. It is no longer a place where big personalities thrive, or where an artist can find a patient benefactor to fund his in-the-red collection. The most celebrated designers are disciplined, reasonable Karl Lagerfelds-in-the-making. Can Galliano thrive in this world? Even if you erase all the bad, bad things that happened to him — and because of him — over the past four years; even if you consider his exceptional clothes, there is something stunted about what's going on there.
Earlier in the day, Galliano's successor at Dior, Raf Simons, took a bigger swing. It's hard not to describe Simons' clothes as electric: whether they appeal to you aesthetically or not, they're so energetic that it's hard to look away. My big takeaway from the show — you can read my full review here — was that there's a limitless element to Simons's work.
It's interesting to know that Simons is only seven years younger than Galliano, as they seem so far apart generationally. At 31, Alexander Wang is decades behind them. I wonder what his youth-driven clothes will transform into when he reaches middle age. In fact, I'm now more curious than ever, given that Wang finally designed a Balenciaga collection worth celebrating. Since joining the French fashion house in 2012, he has made several pretty — if not thrilling — efforts. (Aside from admiring the atelier's incredible handwork, I've been pretty ambivalent about it all.) Friday night, however, was a breakthrough: these were sophisticated clothes that had the confidence and power needed to keep our attention. My favorite look: the windowpane check sheath, its black wrap skirt pinned together with a sunburst broach (see the gallery below).
The savviest of them all, though, might be Isabel Marant, whose fall collection was created by a woman who designs for herself. Marant is not foolish: she isn't looking to make drastic changes each season. Her strength is in the fact that her Breton-stripe shirts, printed paper-bag waist trousers and ruffly dresses continue to spur desire. Her personal style is so strong that she inherently knows which subtle tweaks can successfully update old ideas.
Friday's biggest shows said a lot about the state of fashion. That Marant's straightforward approach sells clothes, that Simons's eagerness to innovate can delight us, and that Alexander Wang is worthy of his Balenciaga title. These are the models that are working in fashion right now: the shining examples for fashion's next generation of designers.
But does Galliano fit into this world? For now, it seems that his incomparable talent will allow him to continue to play by a different set of rules.