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Friday, Feb. 23, 2024
The Observer

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Haute or not: Is Maison Margiela pushing for a fashion renaissance?

Artistic expression in the world of art is hard to come by. 

Ironic? Yes. Hot take? No. 

One can argue that an appreciation for fashion has been on the decline in our culture of trendy overconsumption, preferred synthetic materials and era of fast fashion. However, word is that Maison Margiela’s Spring/Summer 2024 (S/S24) Haute Couture can change that. Margiela’s S/S24 show took place on Thursday, Jan. 25 under Pont Alexandre III in Paris.

Imagine the setting: the first full moon of the year, with streetlights illuminating puddles of water on the ground, dozens of people taking their phones out to watch dolls mechanically walk right into a speakeasy with creaky wooden floors, shattered stained glass everywhere and stone walls with cracks running down its sides.  

The model Leon Dame was the opening performer for Margiela’s S/S24 — that’s right, performer. What made this runway stand out above the rest is that the models were not just expressionlessly stomping back and forth, but they were acting down the aisle. Dame gave an unforgettable introduction where he ran down the aisle — which in the fashion world is considered infamy — then he suddenly hit the breaks pretending like he was going to fall over. There’s clear focus with how he folds his body over as if exhausted, mirroring the movements of a porcelain doll. The modeling industry has always wrestled with the idea of having models be unremarkable hangers so only the clothing can shine, or having models make a big unforgettable impression so the audience would want to obtain that presence with their clothes. John Galliano, the creative director of Mariano Margiela since 2014, was obviously in favor of the latter. To add more to the marionette motifs, make-up artist Pat McGrath was able to achieve a look that can only be describe as angelic, colorful, heroin chic and glossy. It sounds terrible to mix together vivid blue-green eye shadows, coral blushes and metallic lip colors, but the execution proved other wise. 

Another reason why Margiela’s S/S24 was exceptional was because it was able to create a story where the performers took on the characters that their clothing fed them. For example, the story of one model with a blown back umbrella shivering with every step to show that he’s freezing. Other models showed pubic hair clearly visible underneath their fabric — perhaps acting like sex-workers. And we can’t forget the corsets that squeezed all their waists exaggerating their figures, paying ode to the trends of the past. Everything about Maison Margiela’s runway screamed a story of eerie tragedy of an underworld only existing in the margins. 

High fashion has been on the decline with not only quality of clothing but also with expression that can’t reach their audiences — take the Balenciaga scandal, for example. However, Maison Margiela’s S/S24 wasn’t met with only positive reviews. There’s still a perspective on social media that this runway — along with the trend of throwing out Stanley cups or dancing around a mansion with the “Saltburn” theme in the background — is just another reference to wealth disparity, making Margiela’s S/S24 a caricature that romanticizes the poor. This may be true, but you can’t deny the queer, bizarre thrill you feel when watching a marionette-like human walk into a speakeasy, wondering what is going on behind the establishment's door. Galliano’s experimentation in collaboration with McGrath’s may be pushing for a renaissance in fashion, but again subjectivity fuels art. Whatever it is, this kind of rebirth — good or bad — is long overdue.