Back when philosophers were rock stars, everyone wore robes. Then the industrial revolution arrived and everyone decided suits were the best. Though no one is really charging into the office in a gray flannel suit anymore, the typical workplace uniform—two tubes of fabric stitched together into pants and a long-sleeve shirt or jacket—is still a casual distillation of the suit, and men’s tailoring remains the standard from which almost all contemporary fashion innovations derive. And when we talk about gender-fluid dressing in a mainstream way, we mostly mean shapes derived from the way men’s clothing is made.
That’s why I found John Galliano’s new Margiela collection, which he showed in Paris on Wednesday, so intriguing. Gender and its discontents have always been at the heart of Galliano’s work, but for the first time, Margiela’s ready-to-wear collection is completely coed, the house confirmed. While many designers are showing men’s and women’s together, like Lemaire and Lanvin, who also showed in Paris on Wednesday, Margiela is showing garments that are designed to be worn by anyone.
But I hesitate to call them “gender-fluid.” Galliano is very much an old-guard designer, by which I mean a coy diva who came of age wearing dresses and rococo club kid fits at London nightclubs; he’s too much of an institution, and too concerned with authenticity, to go fully woke. (And perhaps, in a way, he’s still doing penance for his drug-fueled 2011 anti-Semitic rant.) He confronts questions not by putting messages on T-shirts, or mixing one language with another, like streetwear and couture, but in the very construction of clothing.
Wednesday’s collection was much more stripped back—“a proposal of something minimal,” Galliano said. The proposal just below that was: what if the future of clothing isn’t in men’s tailoring, but in women’s? “The t-shirt—okay, get ready for this one—that has been cut on the bias, believe it or not,” he said. (This is the t-shirt; best to check it out at the local avant-garde retail experience of your choosing when it arrives in late summer.) What that means is that the fabric is cut diagonally, which means it hangs on the body in a way that’s supple rather than stiff. Galliano is also playing with the halterneck, obviously an extremely feminine silhouette, but he’s clashing with that association by doing it in masculine fabrics, or showing it in gummy chiffon on a guy who could wear it on a run to the grocery store if he put on a t-shirt (just a cotton one) underneath. It’s basically just a holster vest, you know.
Galliano also loves to make pronouncements, another old school flourish. As he said on his podcast—the house releases one with each collection—“Now we’re going through the declining cycle of decadence.” Which sounds great in his beautiful lemony Gibraltar accent, but what does that mean? These are the types of maxims that we simply don’t get anymore—Raf and Demna and Virgil have a much plainer way of speaking, and point their clothing toward social issues, rather than the theoretical mores that seem to haunt Galliano.
But Galliano has also hired a number of very young designers to work for him, and with that in mind he has been thinking a lot about how gender might be related not merely to dressing but to the way fabric is actually cut. After introducing “men’s artisanal” (“artisanal” is the term the house uses for couture) last summer, Galliano opted not to show at men’s fashion week in Paris in January, instead showing a coed collection during Couture a week later that foreshadowed Wednesday’s show. At that show, he blasted music in a graffiti-covered room with mirrored floors and computer-animated Yves Klein blue-poodles—the idea was the oversaturation of media and the decay that that inspires, but it was such an assault of the senses that it was almost impossible to take it in. (In the photos, it’s almost impossible to tell the clothing from the backdrop.)
It’s all pretty heady stuff, but what Galliano is doing is really about the intimacy of fabric, and how clothing sits on your body. Maison Margiela couldn’t confirm whether Galliano would continue to show men’s and women’s together in this way, but it’s an interesting progression for this season. I don’t know that we’re going to see knock-offs of leathery Margiela sacksuits in H&M and Zara any time soon—that’s the real measure of whether or not something from the runways has penetrated. But Margiela has always been for the weirdos, especially before Galliano’s time. It took the house’s out-there Tabis for men two decades to catch on, after all.