Once upon a time there was John Galliano.  And luckily he is still there, more alive than ever, brought back to the centre of that scene that he is rightfully entitled to thanks to an enlightened entrepreneur – Renzo Rosso – and the complicity of a historic brand – Maison Margiela -, which has finally found its new, crazy author. The fairytale has its happy ending. But it does not end there, because since last January, a tsunami with a high artistic coefficient has hit the Paris haute couture week in the form of ‘Artisanal 2024’, the show that, more than any other, has shown what a fashion show really is.

Galliano’s perfect taste for provocation, a master of drama and coup de théâtre, took concrete form – as in the past in each of his collections for Givenchy and Dior – in a slice of history transformed to the use and consumption of his irreverent genius, confirming him as a magical puppeteer in orchestrating inspirations and cues of a fashionable universe in comparison with which everything else is, obviously, boredom. With his poor creatures – directed, however, by the director Baz Luhrmann, healthy bearers of a grotesque and dreamlike sensuality, who moved wobbly under the Parisian Alexander III bridge, dressing a masterpiece-collection bordering on surrealism, amidst corsets and skimpy Belle Époque dresses -, the designer became a witness to a sense of fashion capable of going beyond the obsessive urgency of describing, commenting on and reacting to the present time. Making people dream. Giving wonder. Drawing a magic that can be enjoyed at will to find rest from the toils of reality. Showing, in a word, fashion’s exact raison d’être.

And this should come as no great surprise. John Galliano has always belonged to the elite of those creatives who have single-handedly turned the concept of the fashion show upside down and turned it into a real spectacle, the perfect corollary to a dreamlike aesthetic content. The power of fashion, after all, is all here: a multifaceted and rich compendium, which has led, between the end of the last century and the beginning of the new millennium, to Galliano himself, Marc Jacobs, Karl Lagerfeld and Alexander McQueen becoming the absolute stars of events that have been written and spoken about to the point of exhaustion, and which have exalted the performative potential of clothes – and of the bodies that those clothes wore – to the point of exasperation, transforming the catwalk into a set full of meanings, whose expressive power transcended the aesthetics of clothes to mutate into statement, ideology and beauty, art and emotion, pure spectacle. Forgetful of mere commercial reasons, these artists of the ephemeral dabbled with clothes and the perceptive capacity of the spectators, arousing wonder and revulsion. But also joy.

Because reinterpreting reality through collections has always been the perfect way to transcend textile materiality, provoking a profound and indelible sensorial experience, capable of playing with the very cruelty of the human being. Exceptional storyteller of a fashion-show, but also custodian of a strong and powerful vision of the world, Alexander McQueen was a pioneer in transferring onto the catwalk that compendium of nightmares and delusions with which his world was cloaked, lost between dark Elizabethan atmospheres and not very reassuring images of a dystopian future. Nothing was missing: from a fascination with robotics, to the exact atmospheres of a psychiatric hospital; from the dungeons of the Conciergerie in the era of the Ancien Régime, to dance marathons in western sauce, trespassing between iconic holograms and winged horses, in an emotionally unforgettable caravanserai.

Also fixed in the memory are the frames of the fashion shows in which the cheeky boy from New York who arrived at the French court of Louis Vuitton concentrated his light-hearted and ironic talent, instructing it with the unavoidable nuances of a luxury with pedigree that was only waiting to be invested by an unprecedented stylistic adrenaline rush. Marc Jacobs brought to the catwalk supermodels dressed as nurses with looks inspired by the work of Richard Prince alongside dreamlike apparitions riding horses on an imaginative merry-go-round; and again, beauty champions among the carriages of the Orient Express, together with winking bad girls among the chiaroscuro inspired by “The Night Porter”, in a miscellany of joyful and captivating exhibitions that allowed him to express himself freely, overturning codes and easiness. And Karl Lagerfeld, as creative director of Chanel, did even more. His fashion shows concretely highlighted the Zeitgeist of which fashion was the spokesman, enhancing its fairy-tale and imaginative content. His favourite setting was the Parisian Grand Palais, which in his hands became a malleable container ready to accommodate ever-changing visions: snow-covered chalets, beaches lapped by waves, crowded supermarkets, noisy demonstrations. The power of the Kaiser’s creativity was able to bring the most eagerly awaited sets of French fashion week to life.

And then what happened? What caused the fashion circus to regress along a path that, over time, went from the first fashion shows reserved for the privileged ‘happy few’ in the ateliers of fashion houses, to the semi-national-popular catwalks, to the aforementioned spectacular shows that, in the post-pandemic period, resulted in essential events that could be enjoyed ‘urbi et orbi’ thanks to social networks? What has been lost, such as to reduce the fashion narrative to a sterile tale, stripped down to the point of living on commercial messages alone? Commercial is perhaps the most correct adjective to exemplify the tally of passages that have transferred the hunger for imagery and beauty into simple fashion shows, capable of flirting with enchantment, but confining it to ‘only’ the collections shown on the catwalk. In the name of a concrete idea of fashion, at times repetitive, which appears powerless to exorcise the difficulties of the current historical moment and which limits itself to designing clothes – wearable, very wearable – immersing them in a neutral context that does not make one dream, but neither does it provoke fear.

A fashion that, in response to the storms of contemporary scenarios, draws an appearance of normality and security – is it not from this need that Sabato De Sarno, a newcomer to Gucci, has focused his vision to the cry of ‘The coat is something that makes me feel safe’? – and serenely dispenses with the dream factor in order to navigate a quiet placidity. At least until John Galliano rings the bell loudly calling everyone to order, or rather, to that boisterous and exuberant creative disorder of his, to tell a fashion that goes beyond clothes and becomes history tout court. Of life. Of style. Of that couture still able to make people dream and thus remain immortal.