I was only eleven in March 1994, so I have no first-hand recollection of John Galliano's seminal Autumn/Winter collection of that year, shown in a disused hotel particulier owned by socialite Sao Schlumberger (unless the grainy, much rewound and rewatched VHS footage I held onto long into my early twenties counts, that is). I imagine that it must have looked very much like the Autumn/Winter 2011 John Galliano show. The feeling, however, was entirely different. Back in 1994, the mood was euphoric, Galliano poised on the brink of stunning success, pulling together a handful of breathtaking outfits on a shoe-string to launch his genius on the world. Today, his handful of outfits were again breathtaking, but rather than witnessing the start of Galliano's rise, you felt as if, perhaps, you were witnessing the lowest ebb of his career. Or possibly of his life.
Monsieur Galliano did not take a bow at the end of his show - the second time this week he was absent from a showing of clothes that bore his unmistakable handwriting. These garments had 'John Galliano' stitched not only into the back of their neck, but lovingly fused into every single seam. As an expression of his talent they were purer than anything in the Dior show earlier this week, fur-wrapped opera coats, breathy froths of bias chiffon scrawled with flower prints and embroidery, delicious colour combinations, delicate techniques, exquisite workmanship. Those have been hallmarks of the Galliano house style for years - these weren't the greatest garments Galliano has ever created; but that's only because so very many of his garments have been so very great.
Rather than a collection in its own right, this was a tantalising glimpse at what could have been. La Coupole, the Left Bank brasserie, was to be Galliano's original venue. Maybe that was the reason the audience in today's showing in a swish salon in Avenue Foch were ranged around tables, amidst the kind of evocative detritus Galliano has been dressing his shows with for years - tumbledown Louis Quinze chairs, ostrich feathers, bolts of tulle, flickering candles and the like. There were fresh touches: a pair of slithery latex skirts, and a vinyl trench inset with lingerie organza, showed Galliano's sexy, provocative side - the Galliano who exposed Naomi Campbell's breasts in a taut corset in 1995, the Galliano who sent clothing back to the Givenchy ateliers with the words 'Shorter!! Tighter!!' repeated a few dozen times. The models had their hair marcel-waved and their lips stained red. The hats were delicious confections by Stephen Jones. But all of this conspired to make this feel less like a new season, and more a final gasp - almost a carry-over from Galliano's last, glorious show, where golden confetti rained down from the ceiling and he seemed to take us right back to where he started with histrionic supermodels vamping it up, high camp meeting high art in the very highest form of fashion. If these were his greatest hits, every one went platinum.
The clothes today were beautiful. There are no arguments there. Beyond the media circus surrounding comments that may or may not reflect Galliano's deeply-hidden, deeply offensive views, beyond the ugliness of anything Galliano has said, or done, or thought, his artistry and undeniable joy in creation shone through in these clothes. It reminded me of better times, of Galliano's finest moments rather than his darkest hours. This collection was nothing new. But it was unquestionably a thing of beauty, dreamed up by an exceptional artist, and while it is no excuse for his actions it undoubtedly deserves to be applauded as such.