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Welcome To Our Playground

by Alexander Fury .

Who better to capture and celebrate the innocent, unbridled joy of John Galliano's inimitable invention than the late Tony Hart, artist, broadcaster and veritable legend of British children's television

If genius is nothing more than childhood recaptured at will, then John Galliano's Autumn/Winter 2000 show was indeed a heart-rending work of staggering genius. 'Welcome To Our Playground' read the models' catwalk instructions backstage, scribbled with crayons and stuck with sweeties, a precursor to a show of topsy-turvy, inside-out and upside-down juxtaposition, of oversized and overlapping garments inspired by the playful naïvety of a childhood immersed in the dressing-up box.

This collection was childhood recaptured at will, and Galliano's exuberance recaptured too. The backward glance was not only to the innocence and playfulness of childhood, but to the innocence and invention of Galliano's early career: of trousers worn as jackets, sweaters reconfigured as skirts and the rich damask of Ancien Régime aristocrats' curtains reapproriated to dress the eighteenth-century French tatterdemalions known as Les Incroyables. With cravats covering their bottom lips, coats sliced-away across the chest at the front with tails plummeting to the ground at rear, and all manner of agit-prop frippery inbetween, those sartorially rebellious revolutionary miscreants inspired not only Galliano's award-winning Saint Martins graduation collection in 1984, but an entirely new way of looking at garments.

Galliano's collections not only suggested the new, but they questioned the old. Why couldn't a jacket be worn upside down, the hem thrown backwards to create a portrait collar? Why couldn't a sweatshirt be a skirt, the sleeves knotted to form a neat bustle just below the buttocks? 'He just created magic,' said long-term collaborator Lady Amanda Harlech commenting retrospectively on those early years of endless invention in 1996, while André Leon Talley of American Vogue commented on how an upside-wolf coat inspired the dernier cri of chic, sliced as a bulky-collared bolero in shearling and worn by the bias-wrapped, diamond-studded Supermodel Nadja Auermann in Galliano's now-legendary 'Back In The Black' collection of Autumn/Winter 1994.

Six years later, for Autumn/Winter 2000, Galliano fused the raw and the rarefied. Alongside the sublime taffeta ballgowns and over-scale trenches came, appropriately enough, the ridiculous: a menagerie of cartoonish animals and parade of garments crafted from common-or-garden cardboard but lavished with the painstaking care of the hautest of couture.

Who better to capture and celebrate the innocent, unbridled joy of John Galliano's inimitable invention than the late Tony Hart, artist, broadcaster and veritable legend of British children's television? So reasoned the idiosyncratic minds of Camilla Morton and Katie Grand of POP magazine. For the seminal publication's inaugural Autumn/Winter 2000 issue, Hart was enlisted to underscore the make-do-and-mend, dress-up-to-mess-up ethos of Galliano's show.

For his ludicrous, ludique collection, the ever-madcap Galliano scaled up paper-doll dresses and origami animals to giant proportion, painted-by-numbers and standing proud from his models' bodies. In turn, Hart shrank these back down to adorn his diminutive plasticine sidekick Morph: first sporting a tabbed tutu as modelled by Liberty Ross, then a three-dimensional frog flattened to paper cut-out abstraction (paper eyelashes optional).

In Nick Knight's unique archive film, seen here for the first time, the magical vision of fashion editors breaking into smiles and laughter beside the catwalk (a phenomenon so rare it was video-recorded chez Galliano for posterity) is echoed on set during the POP shoot, where style stalwarts Grand, Morton and Ross are equally entranced by Hart's artwork.

Following Tony Hart's death in 2009, this film stands as not only a record of a extraordinary shoot but as visual testament to the timely meeting of two quintessentially British creative spirits.