When I stumbled into John Galliano’s greatest show

John Galliano show, Paris, 2005, photo by Sean Rocha

John Galliano show, Paris, 2005, photo by Sean Rocha

John Galliano — perhaps the most celebrated fashion designer of his generation — made his return to the runway today, showing in London for Maison Martin Margiela.  This comes three or so years after he was abruptly fired from Dior for a series of drunken, anti-Semitic rants that were captured on video and whether this comes too soon or talent offers its own redemption is being much debated.  But to mark this moment, it is worth looking back at what once was.

By chance, in October 2005 I attended the now-legendary John Galliano Spring 2006 ready-to-wear show in Paris that, after Galliano fell from grace, the fashion critic Cathy Horyn described as, “the only time I have stood to applaud a designer, without waiting for the rest of the audience to join in.”  It was a mind-blowing spectacle, even if I wasn’t quite sure what it was all about.

I took the photograph above at the show but you can see more of what was on offer at style.com.  Here is my description of the show at the time:

Paris 8 October 2005

I headed out to La Plaine St. Denis beyond the péripherique for the John Galliano show, taking the #12 Metro to Porte de la Chapelle.  Once out at the show, I very nearly walked into the dressing rooms, which were in a white tent that throbbed with music.  A crowd of eccentrics lounged at the entrance and I saw that Galliano has become something other than just another designer, more like a rock star with groupies.

I made my way around to the front, where a crowd of several hundred was waiting in a parking lot adjacent to the shed-like building where the show would be held.  There was no order, no system, only well-groomed people clutching the scarves Galliano had sent in lieu of printed invitations, each with a seat number written on it.  I had no scarf and no seat, only a vague assurance from a friend that I could just say Jeremy put me on the list, though I’d never met Jeremy and had no idea his last name was Healey.  Still, I tried it, very politely.  The woman asked my name but there was no list against which to check it so she just lifted the rope and said, “Jeremy’s upstairs in the booth, if you want to say hello.”

The hall was enormous, with banked seats on either side and the runway at floor level.  A video camera swung by on a boom while stagehands arranged the sets, as if at the theater.  Everything was bathed in a deep-blue light and I saw Alexandre de Betak giving directions into a headset, appearing quite calm in the midst of a massive production that was running late even by fashion standards.

Slowly things came together, the stands began to fill, and out of the darkness came the crackle of paparazzi bulbs: it was Marilyn Manson, who appears to be held in higher regard by the fashion world than I ever would have believed possible.  (Well, that owed something to his arriving with Dita Von Teese.)  On and on it went, thousands of photographs of this gothic couple, while other celebrities quietly slipped into their seats almost unnoticed.  Every once in a while a small cluster gathered around an Asian actress no one in the Western press recognized, but then it was back to Marilyn Manson, ghoulishly made up.

Then the show began.  And it was like no show all week: dwarves, prostitutes, obese women, midgets, elderly people, twins, children, drag queens, sailors, hippies, beefcake boys, a Soviet military officer, an old man like Father Time in pajamas, and even a couple professional models.  The multiple sets were self-consciously schlocky and the music ranged far enough to even take in “Hard-Knock Life” from Annie via Jay Z.

It was an insane spectacle out of Fellini and except for some vague sense that there are many kinds of beauty I have absolutely no clue what the point was.  Ten minutes after the show I would not have been able to recognize a single item of clothing from the collection; indeed, if anything it finally convinced me that the gaunt proportions of most models are in fact helpful for exhibiting clothes.  But no matter: the show rocked and when the anticipated designer’s curtain call was preceded by a marionette in John’s image I thought, really, is there anything he won’t do?



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