Galliano, Couture Content, and the Business of Luxury
FSW examines the aesthetics and business significance of John Galliano's seminal Maison Margiela Spring/Summer 2024 Artisanal Collection.
“Synaesthesia” was the first word that came to mind when experiencing (it felt like more than watching) John Galliano’s Maison Margiela Spring/Summer 2024 Artisanal Collection. It was a feast for the senses, combining clothing, dance, music, and quasi-literary cinematography. From the purposeful naming of the show as an “Artisanal Collection” to the masterful execution of an extraordinarily detailed on-the-day show performance, Galliano and his team created one of the most mature, emotive, and deeply narrative fashion shows in history.
Are the reactions to this show overvaunted? Perhaps and perhaps not. Yet the Maison Margiela Spring/Summer 2024 Artisanal Collection was a brilliant case study in the effectiveness of aesthetic-driven luxury content strategy, understanding a fashion show as a form of content.
Galliano and the Current State of Luxury
What made Galliano’s tour de force so striking was not just its sublimity as a work of art; but also how the imaginative Brassaï-inspired Parisian street scene functioned as a not-so-quiet meta-commentary on the current state of the business of luxury. The prognosis is not good.
Or, as Cathy Horyn bluntly put it:
Maison Margiela closed the spring haute couture collections, leaving most shows, however beautiful and well executed, in its dust. Because it takes time to do truly moving work, to remind people of the power behind clothes. And nearly all big-brand creative directors supervise four to six shows a year. In many ways, Galliano’s underworld scene was a reminder of what a prison the luxury industry has become.
Luxury, like many industries, is still grappling with the impact of digital technology and social media in a very real way. The need for a modern brand to be omnichannel is an uncomfortable place for luxury brands, particularly the urge to feed the insatiable content demands of a constantly-on consumer media and shopping landscape.
If luxury feels lost, it is because brands have positioned themselves tenuously between the comfortable past of heritage-based exceptionalism and the extreme future of innovation with AI, digital fashion, and the metaverse. Add in the fast-paced digital present of the creator economy, live social shopping, and hyper-personalized e-commerce and things can get awkward when you talk to luxury brand decision-makers.
In Defense of Luxury as Slow Fashion
At FSW, we are constantly making the argument for the business value of the luxury aesthetic and the idea that luxury brands need to embrace a more attenuated, specific kind of content strategy if they are going to survive for the long term. We have also argued for the idea of Fashion Week as a form of content from a B2B and B2C perspective.
This show marked Galliano’s return to couture for the first time in two years. Where his Spring/Summer 2022 couture show was cinematic and full of moments of high drama, the Maison Margiela Spring/Summer 2024 Artisanal Collection was subtle, beautiful, and fully immersive. As more than one critic has noted, this show took more than a year to plan.
The meticulous craftsmanship of Galliano’s artistry evidenced itself at every level of the presentation. The clothing was simple but profound from the delicate folds of sheer tulle to the rough bindings of the corsetry that played with and against the impeccably individual moments of the models in character. Then, there was Pat McGrath’s expertly ghoulish plastic doll makeup and the overall scenography of the venue, set in the penumbra of a broken-down 1930s-style cafe under the Pont Alexandre III.
The Maison Margiela Spring/Summer 2024 Artisanal Collection was high-end slow fashion at its zenith. Were the clothes wearable or sellable? No. But that wasn’t the point. The collection was a riveting expression of the sublime imagination of a creative fashion genius. For Maison Margiela, it was on brand and has had the effect of uniting fashion critics and consumers in a sense of shared awe. This is content strategy at its most effective, if you approach “content” through our widened FSW definition as “any touchpoint where a consumer encounters your brand.”
The Fashion Show as Content
A luxury fashion show is content. Luxury, unlike mainstream fashion, isn’t about stuff per se. It is more esoteric. Luxury is elevated experience. People want to be wowed; they want to fall in love with and aspire to the rarefied nature of luxury; and they want to be enveloped in the sheer beauty of aesthetic experience and to think deeply about what it all means. And moments of sublimity like this Galliano collection are critical for the future and indeed the continued survival of the luxury industry.
The Maison Margiela Spring/Summer 2024 Artisanal Collection contains many lessons for the luxury industry. Haute couture—with all the craftsmanship, storytelling, and rarefied presentation—is smart content strategy because it is content that is most closely tied to corporate vision and brand story. Galliano’s presentation was a palpable reminder that a fashion show remains the industry’s most powerfully effective form of content with Galliano seizing the reins as master strategist.
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