When an orange-wigged model hiding under a black hat skulked onto the runway, her posture hunched and her makeup freak-clownish, no one quite knew what to make of it, except that John Galliano was back and ready to challenge our perceptions.
On Friday, the designer who was fired from the top job at Dior in 2011 after being recorded on a camera phone making racially insensitive remarks in a drunken rant showed his first ready-to-wear collection for his new employer, Maison Margiela, following his couture debut for the label in January in London. The new collection made a commentary on self-doubt and fallibility while he was at it.
The show was small by Paris Fashion Week standards, but the stakes were high. Galliano was looking for redemption. And he found it by showing a collection that was very him -- romantic cut velvet maxi coats; lace, sequin and feather-trimmed slip dresses; velvet knickers; sheer blouses, spidery lace knits and funny fake fur slippers with an idiosyncratic bent.
It was less Margiela, though there were hints of the brand's signature deconstruction in a chic, menswear-inspired trouser skirt in pinstripe wool and sheer chiffon and a tulle dress with a pea coat attached to the back.
More ideas will come. But for now, the biggest takeaway was the sentiment. Mixed in with the parade of female pulchritude, the designer sent out more awkward models, one playing angry with chin jutting out, another self-conscious with arms crossed, almost like they were his own demons out there for all to see.
Galliano tarnished fashion's patina of poker-faced perfection, on the runway here and off with his own flawed story, and reminded us that sometimes life sucks. And yet, we go on.
Famous for taking grandiose bows at Dior, complete with elaborate costumes and bodyguards at his side, on this night, Galliano didn't even peek his head out.
Meanwhile at Dior, life has certainly gone on post-Galliano. As artistic director since 2012, designer Raf Simons has firmly linked the house's identity to big, blossoming flowers and a modern vision of couture rooted in spare athleticism. But in the fall collection he showed on Friday, he challenged all that. Simons took Dior from the garden to the jungle with a cast of fierce females in colorful animal stripes, sexy cat suits, and kinky thigh high vinyl boots.
The celebrity front row had a new look, too, with pop star and Gen Millennium style icon Lorde, backpack in tow, taking a seat not far from "Fifty Shades of Grey" actress Dakota Johnson.
Perhaps with a nod to tomboy chic Lorde, Simons brought more masculinity into the collection, starting with terrific-looking pants suits with beautifully tailored tweed jackets over slim cropped pants and glossy vinyl boots with Lucite heels. The shirttails of menswear-style button downs peeked through the pleats of tweed skirts. Jacquard knit dresses in abstract animal stripe patterns hugged the curves. A-line mini dresses came covered in patches of multicolored fur. or with sleek harness details. And gowns glistened in patent leather resembling menacing looking reptile scales. The combined effect was rich and sensual but still modern -- a rare animal, indeed.
At Balenciaga, Alexander Wang was also feeling frisky. The American designer, who took the helm in 2012, was inspired by a tiny stick pin, according to show notes, a jeweled heirloom he used to poke at the house's venerable past and stir up a future-thinking collection that was sweet and industrial, couture and street.
Classic Balenciaga cocoon coats were modified with sharp folds and industrial looking staples. Asymmetrical skirts were pinned at the hip with dagger brooches. And boucle jackets were trimmed with chunky leather buckle collars, hinting at bondage.
Balloon dresses combined traditional couture brocades with prickly textures, created using hand-knotted cords dipped in silicone and actual razor blades. A black kimono coat was embellished with bugle bead spines that looked almost like magnetic shavings.
The day was all about approaching the big, old, lumbering establishment of luxury fashion with a bit of irreverence, with a chin out, a growl or a stick pin.
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PHOTOS FROM PARIS FASHION WEEK: