For John Galliano, perhaps fashion’s greatest narrative spinner of all time, taking the leap into the new age of moving images is proving an absolute gift. In July, he was right at the boundary-breaking forefront, releasing S.W.A.L.K., a fascinating chronicle of the making of the Maison Margiela Artisanal fall collection that he made with Nick Knight, instead of a physical show during Paris haute couture week. This season, he’s back again with S.W.A.L.K. II, the sequel. The collection he defines as the “co-ed” follows on from the Artisanal research for ready-to-wear—and takes his cast of characters on an adventure to dance the tango in an imagined Buenos Aires. In fact, it was filmed with Knight and members of the Maison Margiela crew over the last few days in Tuscany. Galliano took a break from the epic set to share his thoughts in a Zoom conversation about the collection—and how he’s thoroughly embracing the opportunity to show his ideas in a new medium.
Hello, John! This is the second season you’ve not had a show. Is there anything about showing on a runway that you miss?
This is a show, though! This is my proposal for how I’d like to show my collection. We’re just not creating a runway show. What I want to message now is that this is just the best medium. I mean, how many people get to see how toiles are made, how all the pieces of the jigsaw of a collection come together—the hair, the makeup, the music, all the process? It’s really exciting to engage young people in that process. And opening up all these platforms to engage and dialogue with people just seems so right to do. The thought of doing a runway show now is just, really?
Why did you decide to film in Tuscany?
It was always planned that we’d be shooting in London, but the new COVID-19 legislation made that impossible at the last minute. So we came to Italy. The whole team was tested on the way out, we have a medical team on the shoot 24 hours, everything is sanitized, there are masks, social distancing, as it should be.
Italian citizens are incredibly strict and observant of all the protocols, I am hearing.
Yes. We actually feel incredibly safe here. Safer than Paris or London, to tell you the truth.
So, where did you start with this season?
I’ve put the emphasis on “artistic industrialization.” Artisanal inspires ready-to-wear, so you’ll see machines and the hand, the love, and the care (of the Italian factories). They’re passionate about their work. Often, they come to the atelier, and we’ll do seminars on how we’d like a pin hem to be done. They’re so respectful of couture, and of techniques, and will try to find ways of doing it industrially. I think for some people, that’s going to be a surprise.
Watching your film in the summer, it was a revelation to be able to see you researching your subject material and to understand all the techniques of cutting you talk about. Explaining your design language, really. Where have you taken your research with this collection?
Well, it’s tango—with a new twist. I had an incredible experience in Buenos Aires, searching for the real culture of tango. It’s not what you see on the street corners, for tourists. It’s really a matter of intergenerational, private get-togethers people only know about by word of mouth. Eventually, I was very lucky to get an invitation to a place, like a warehouse. It was dark; there were black cats running everywhere; rain was falling through the roof open to the night sky. And upstairs, there was a gentleman, maybe in his 80s, hair slicked back, in a suit fitted to an inch of his life—dancing with a young girl dressed in hip-hop clothes. He was probably her grandfather. Passing it on.
So that set you off?
We researched tango dancing, South American wedding photographs of the 19th century. I imagined a wedding scene. Veils. And I wanted to bring in the “wet look” that we started last season.
So then, you had a narrative and characters to work on?
The bride. The guests at the wedding—the dowager, the twins, a procession. Strict tailoring, cut away to reveal point d’esprit. A white tuxedo. For another section, we looked at dance marathons of the 1930s. The evocation of that beautiful fatigue in the clothes, slashed trousers…
Technically, how have you transferred those visuals and feelings into the clothes?
You’ll see the suiting, which looks as if the shoulders have been drenched with rain. The circular cutting [that] captured the look of wet fabric—only now you’ll find it in a sweater. Really, also I want to explain the numbers of the Maison Margiela lines. Number 14, pinned to the back of the 1940s suiting, denotes the iconic menswear line. The fits and cuts that are permanent, things that we know people come back for. Number 4 is the iconic womenswear line.
So you’ll see them pinned to the back of the dancers. But really, you know, it’s co-ed, genderless.
Making moving fashion images changes everything for the models involved. What you’re asking them to do is far more than old-school walking up and down on a runway. They’ve become performers.
Our “Muses”! There are 10 of them, who were with us at the Rue Saint-Maur studio in Paris for weeks. We brought in a tango teacher and had lessons every day for them to prepare for the film. Their commitment has been absolutely incredible. It’s been magical. I’m very happy working this way.
Watch the Maison Margiela spring 2021 ready-to-wear video below.
Originally published on Vogue.com