A simple black coat is a lot more complicated than you think

|     Robin Givhan, The Washington Post     |

PARIS – The show began with a model wearing a black felt coat – oversized, but nothing flashy. Subdued. A black neoprene skirt was hiding underneath that coat and the two pieces were paired with black rubber Mary Janes. The model had a platinum buzz cut, a pert little nose and an Ivory-baby complexion.

The best thing about this shot across the bow was how perfectly it bull’s-eyed its target.

The look could be worn by any gender and almost any age. It was deeply rooted in the traditions of tailoring but was unmistakably contemporary – even a bit forward-looking. Its designer, John Galliano, celebrated the craft of tailoring while also announcing that he was not planning on leaving well-enough alone.

A fashion show can be a strange bit of alchemy. The first look down the runway is akin to the match that sets off the fireworks. (The first look can also unexpectedly fail, like the clicking ignition on a stove burner that never manages to spark a flame.)

The Margiela show in an upper salon at the Grand Palais displayed Galliano’s technical skill, his creativity, his wit and his vision of a near future in which fashion’s response to gender fluidity has evolved into an expression of sophistication and grace instead of costume. In other words, that first look set off a roaring fire.

Anrealage fall-winter 2019 collection. – PHOTOS: WP-BLOOM
Maison Margiela fall-winter 2019 collection

The goal for Galliano’s fall 2019 collection for Maison Margiela was to break a garment down to its essential elements, to strip away all the flourishes and consider the two-dimensional pattern pieces that form the garment’s foundation. He looked at the aesthetics of a coat: How does something simple and pure evolve into something overwrought and distracting? He revelled in the inherent beauty of the fundamentals of tailoring – the basting stitches, the chalk markings – and turned them into a kind of decoration.

He pondered the way in which we categorise masculinity and femininity and how we apply those terms to clothes. What exactly creates those distinctions? Silhouette? Embellishments? Fabrics? Perhaps those gender distinctions are all in our head.

Galliano put his clothes on a range of models, from prancing men and lumbering women to just plain old people who simply stroll. As on the runway, there will always be the flamboyant actors who strut amongst us. They test social norms and push us to consider alternatives to our quotidian lives. But most folks don’t want to live their lives as a kind of performance art. They simply want to live well. Galliano’s clothes challenge the imagination. But they will also allow you to go through life quietly and calmly, but looking just a little bit better than average.

Galliano’s collection began with austere black and moved into shades of charcoal gray, navy and moss. His palette was restrained. His shapes were conservative. The clothes were oversized but not cartoonish. They were cut to give the body ample room but not to completely obliterate its shape.

The jackets were outlined with white basting stitches; the sleeves lay flat against the body. As the collection became more dynamic, bold pink digital prints gave the back of a coat a visual jolt. The prints appeared on bedazzled leggings that were worn under an ecru, pin-tucked parka.

A pair of black trousers served as the model for a dress. A man wore a black silk dress over a starched collar dress shirt. Another wore a black trouser suit elegantly cinched at the waist.

These were tailored clothes, yes. But they were not strict or tradition-bound. Instead, Galliano looked at what came before and offered a fashion prophecy for what was yet to be. The proposed answer lies in the details, not in the big, bold gestures.

Galliano hasn’t been alone in honing in on and enlarging particular aspects of our clothes. Other designers have been obsessed with silhouette, with ridding clothes of gender distinctions. At Anrealage, designer Kunihiko Morinaga took a magnifying glass to clothing basics. He showed his collection in an airplane hanger of a room with a soaring glass ceiling. – WP-BLOOM