Step by step, in bold riding boots, the Maison Margiela collection moved forward. First came the blank canvas of white, especially striking in its rendition as a perfectly tailored coat.
Then designer John Galliano shifted towards Artisanal - the range of put-together pieces that Martin Margiela, the house's original designer, had invented as part of his early perception of recycling in the 1980s. For in the Spring/Summer 2016 Haute Couture line, there were fragments of fabric — patterned pieces that could have come from castaway curtains and striped shirts — bunched like clean laundry on the breast of a shirt dress. Galliano seemed much more assured with this collection, shown with a flourish in noble rooms at the Hôtel National des Invalides.
He even inserted a little of that mad make-up from the Dior show years: eyes outlined with a dark star; purple lips painted on the face; and a lot of red hair. Always the showman, Galliano finished off an impeccable double-breasted jacket with a flurry of pink dress at the back, showing off an orange lining from the front.
The brilliant mixes that Galliano used throughout both his personal and Dior years seemed, for the first time, to fit with the Margiela aesthetic. Yet… we have, indeed, seen all these recycling and remaking stories before.
The shirts-on-shirt whispered "Comme des Garçons". Everything seemed like an echo chamber of something in fashion's past. The real problem with the Artisanal project is that it is a merger of two similar skill sets, but with entirely different fashion spirits. Martin Margiela is from Europe's north, the artistic fashion equivalent of the Flemish painters; while Galliano is intrinsically Mediterranean, with the richness of Spanish or Italian art.
The north/south divide seems present in their separate ways of approaching the concept of recycling: Margiela, a dedicated "green" before that title was invented; Galliano a "magpie" decorator.
The new Artisanal collection, supported financially and emotionally by Renzo Rosso's Only the Brave group, shows Galliano moving towards Margiela's goal. But it remains to be seen whether the merger will finally be sealed in this confused period of changing fashion attitudes and fading haute couture.