Despite the collective wisdom that says great minds think alike, we’ve always found that when two creative brains come together, it’s actually the differences between them that can serve to create an even greater result. That was certainly the case when the imaginative minds of our visual team collaborated with Maison Margiela’s creative director John Galliano to create our latest Madison Avenue window installations.
“We’re tapping into John’s creative mind, his spirit, and his way of creating,” Barneys creative director Dennis Freedman says of the collaboration. “In the end, these windows are a reflection of how his creativity merges with the DNA of Maison Margiela, and then how that gets filtered through the way we think at Barneys. What comes out is a reflection of how John developed the collection, albeit a reflection that’s not literal.”
Exploring the overall design process used by Galliano when approaching his collections for Margiela, the windows serve as an insight into the inspiration the designer brings to his work. The project began when Freedman led his team to Galliano’s atelier in order to gain better understanding of not only the Fall ’16 collection itself, but also the mind that produced it.
“Beyond this specific collection, we talked with John in a broader way about what inspires him. Not just about fashion—we wanted to understand the way he creates,” Freedman says. “The minute I walked into his studio—which is like a cabinet of curiosities and filled with an assortment of things he collects—it already told me a lot about what fascinates him. That was the point, gaining that insight. A lot of what is in the windows comes out of our conversation rather than from the clothes themselves.”
Those conversations were wide-ranging, with the initial discussion running far beyond its allotted hour timeslot, to the point that the teams looked up to find more than four hours had flown by in a rambling talk that Freedman likens to free association. Central themes that emerged as focuses of Galliano’s process were deconstruction, juxtapositions—between time periods, materials, techniques, and colors—and surrealism.
“There was an element of surrealism in John’s workspace and the way he thinks, and I was fascinated by his way of expressing his ideas through that surrealistic point of view,” Freedman tells us. The Barneys team then took this idea and reinterpreted in an impactful and inventive visual way that made sense for window displays.
The tableaus that resulted from the collaboration fully embrace these central concepts of deconstruction, juxtaposition, and surrealism, bringing them to passersby on Madison Avenue. In the first of the windows, an invisible model walks through a field of waving sea grass that is studded with outreached arms that duplicate those of Michelangelo’s painting for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Her stud-embroidered plaid blazer with cable-knit sleeves and her black leather skirt make her stand out all the more from the naturalistic setting, embracing Galliano’s idea of juxtapositions.
Moving up Madison Avenue, viewers will next encounter a shearling aviator cape on another invisible model. This one, though, resides in a galvanized room and is surrounded by ten pairs of knee-high riding boots—sculpted replicas cast from those that pounded the runway—and a conveyor belt of five identical wigs that also duplicate the runway look. Representing the disturbance of traditional order that Maison Margiela is known to embrace, the collage of accessories creates a haunting scene.
The third window draws its inspiration from flight. An ethereal draped metallic gown floats in the spaces and sprouts a 15-foot-wide pair of sculptural, mechanical wings. In the same way that Maison Margeila is known for its unique and unexpected textiles in its designs, Barneys turned to innovative materials for the wings. Taking the place of traditional feathers is cold-rolled steel.
The final window takes a departure from the other three in that it showcases two pieces from Galliano’s 2016 couture collection, a series entitled “Artisanal,” rather than pieces from the ready-to-wear line. The distinction is an important one. “In speaking with John and understanding his process, the couture collection was really the seed for the ready-to-wear,” Freedman says. “Both John and I felt that by showing these two couture dresses, it would help to understand the other pieces. It’s giving the people on the street more than just seeing the collection itself—you can see where it came from and its inspiration. We felt strongly that it would add another layer to all the windows.”
The inspiration for the couture collection, it should be noted, was derived from birds. In the fourth window, two revolving brick structures serve as pigeonniers—also known as dovecotes and meant to house pigeons or doves—and are adorned with hand-painted birds. One surrounds an off-white trench coat that falls into a pleated skirt and is decorated with white birds. In stark juxtaposition, the second pigeonnier is adorned with kaleidoscopically colored bird and hosts a black blazer layered with a pink jacquard dress with bright orange lining.
Taken together, the four windows serve to paint a portrait of Galliano’s creative mind, a dynamic and creative consciousness that extends far beyond this one collection. As Freedman tells us, “This project is extremely ambitious because it not only addresses the collections at hand, but also expresses John’s overall artistic process. We really wanted to invite our audience into the world of Maison Margiela.”
The Maison Margiela windows are currently on display at Barneys’ Madison Avenue flagship and will be on view now through October 2, 2016. But whether you’re in New York or not, be sure to check out Barneys to see more of Galliano’s creativity for Maison Margiela on display.