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At Maison Margiela, John Galliano Tells an Epic Tale

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These days, narrative theater — the kind that involves characters and stories and spinning out entire fantasy scenarios that require costumes — has largely fallen out of fashion.

Or fashion weeks, to be specific. Left behind as relics of a more self-indulgent, lawless (less corporate, depending on your point of view) time when the artistes ruled the runways. Except that is, at Maison Margiela, where John Galliano is still engaged in the kind of world building that is the fashion equivalent of a Dickens epic serial that plays on, season after season.

His Romeo and Juliet are called Count and Hen. Last year, in an episode called “Cinema Inferno,” they ran off to the Wild West of America and encountered all sorts of nefarious situations, and this season Mr. Galliano filled in the back story of their parents, who had met during a trans-Atlantic passage to the United States. Or so the neon outline of a cruise ship at the show’s entryway indicated.

The mementos of that trip were contained in clothes — voluminous black and gray greatcoats with generous draping and trapeze backs, bias-cut gowns, full petticoats and little camisoles — handed down over the generations, increasingly frayed and customized. Ta-da: collection!

Stiff white collars had become detached from their shirts to act like scarves, one pointed end jutting out to the side as if it had frozen in an endless ocean breeze. Dresses, the tops peeled down to form the waistbands of the skirts and expose the corseted underpinnings, looked as if they had been laminated for preservation, folded and unfolded over and over again until the creases painted their own picture.

One skirt had a bustle structured via duct tape. Wool trousers were truncated at the knee, the hems rolled up to form a New Look-like flounce. Bags were veiled by tulle, like memories. It was all very desiccated aristo — but with a recycled, or upcycled, edge.

That’s what makes Mr. Galliano’s current work so interesting, and why it seems so relevant, despite its whiff of the past. He’s taken the dramatic tools of yore and given them a twist that speaks directly to the present day: to the meaning of sustainability, the material concerns of fashion and the very problem of stuff (too much of it).

It’s a genuinely creative way of addressing serious contemporary concerns. One that simultaneously is awfully fun to watch and seems equally interesting to wear.

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