'In Xanadu did Kubla Khan, A stately pleasure-dome decree'. These were the Coleridge lines inscribed on John Galliano's invitation: evidently John was our Kubla, and for Winter 2008 he pitched his pleasure-dome in a vast hanger on the outskirts of Paris. Xanadu, I'm not sure - but the evening was very heaven. The theme was evidently Galliano's favourite stomping-ground of the 1930s, but Galliano was by no means resting on his laurels. By grounding this vision within a narrative context of the golden age of Hollywood, namely a Cecil B. de Mille-cum-Josef von Sternberg extravaganza, it gave his extraordinary imagination chance to soar. It rested on the orient, in every connotation: Chinoiserie, Japonism, the Great British Raj, all in rich, heat-infused colour straight from the subcontinent. These combined with the visions of Gustave Moreau, Paul Poiret and the wanton exoticism of the Ballet Russe, were whisked in the Galliano blender and poured as bias-cut fabric across a bevy of models emoting for all they were worth.
It was wonderful to watch it unfold. Galliano's astounding eye for colour was given free reign, utilising the brittle, subtle palette of black-and-white film costume in unusual combinations such as eau-de-nil with vermillion, navy with brilliant raspberry and a host of fascinating sugar-almond pastels which never cloyed. On a more fundamental level, the manner in which he made fabric move, from the sinuously draped and wrapped tiers of bias-cut evening dresses (suddenly fresher and lighter than they have seemed for a decade) to trapeze and pyramid coats, flounced gossamer blouses and wonderfully flattering dhoti-trousers, was stunning. It was this feel for textile, Galliano's intrinsic, intuitive knowledge of cut, which marked these out as some of the most technically astute clothes in Paris, and therefore the world.
With every inch of the venue a set-piece, from rotating turbanned busts encrusted with glitter to chiarascuro air heavy with musk, it's hard for some not to get swept up in the histrionics of these set-pieces and feel that perhaps the clothes can take second place. Then again, some nights - like tonight - Galliano nails it. The exquisite Michael Howells set was intrinsic to the clothes, underlining the subtle nuances of his aesthetic, and nothing seemed excessive: the show is Galliano's proscenium arch, his platform to display his vision, and trying to reign that in would be like mounting a Boucher or Fragonard in an Ikea frame. Namely, a travesty.