Bill Gaytten was John Galliano's right-hand man for over twenty years. If Galliano had to entrust the house that bears his name to anyone, it would probably be him. That's a glowing endorsement for Gaytten's inaugural womenswear collection for spring 2012, but by no means a guarantee of success.
The trouble with designing for Galliano is that, despite the press notes repeatedly - desperately - proclaiming the codes of the house, those codes have always been ephemeral. Galliano's magpie eye plunders history - it is the unique manner in which his mind can synthesise those inspirations and make them his own that was the true hallmark of the Galliano label. That sounds a little like fashion alchemy. It is - and not everyone has the gift. The eternal paradox is that you can teach someone how to design, but you can't teach someone to be a great designer. That comes from inside.
Alas, the collection we saw today was not Galliano. It had the elements of the Galliano look - it tinkered with the feminine tailoring, the delicate eighteenth-century colour palette Galliano has always loved, the bias-cut dresses he dusted off and made his own again and again. But the indefinable, indescribable magic that always made a Galliano show - even one that perplexed or didn't chime entirely right with the times - into something utterly unique had vanished.
That's no surprise, honestly. For better for worse, for richer for poorer, the John Galliano label has always been about individuality - and the individuality of its eponymous founder was always the most important. Galliano's vision tied everything together. Galliano was the one who pushed the buttons, he lit the fuse, he fired the last cannons on everything shown on his catwalk. There was always fire and dazzle. You didn't always love it, but his undeniable fashion genius (check and you'll see I rarely-if-ever use that phrase) shone through. Galliano was the great fantasist of late twentieth century fashion. That's an extremely tough act to follow.
Gaytten's effort was fair. But it wasn't good enough. The skirt lengths, fluttering below the knee, were frumpy. The tailoring was sometimes ill-proportioned, curved seams outlined with chiffon cutting across the body at unflattering points, pleats bursting from high on the hips to add inches. Latex corsages adorned with gigantic safety-pins seemed a last-ditch attempt to add a creative touch to what was, essentially, a pre-collection pumped with steroids and thrown out into an overly-long, overly-loud catwalk show that begged to simply be over. The eveningwear, granted, latched onto some of the Galliano magic of old. You'd never really come to Galliano for day-wear, even when the man himself was pumping out those delicious curvaceous tweed suits in the mid-nineties. The spangled bias-cut cocktail gowns were very much in the filmy, gossamer Galliano tradition - ravishing, lacy little lingerie nothings fluttering prettily around the models' bodies. Gaytten devised the cuts for enough of Galliano's show-stoppers over the years to have that technique down pat. But here there were too many, almost as if Gaytten were proclaiming 'Look! I can do it too!' A ruffled-festooned closing ballgown had odd similarities with the feathered and frilled wedding dress Galliano closed his first Dior haute couture collection with in January 1997. Gaytten's riposte to being looked-over for the Dior role too? Who knows. And, if we're being brutal, who cares?
Perhaps the pressure got to Gaytten. For a man who has never fronted a house before to be faced with creating and showing not one but two key collections during Paris fashion is unprecedented in fashion history. Once Gaytten can focus on Galliano, maybe all will be well. Maybe. As an opening gambit, however, this was an uninspired, uninspiring outing. If Gaytten's Dior collection was by numbers, this was Galliano by rote. Every box on that Galliano check-list was ticked - but I wanted it once more, with feeling.
Alas, maybe that's impossible. Let's think about it logically: if you take John Galliano, and subtract John Galliano, what are you left with? Nothing.