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The concept of “make do and mend” has had a long fashion life. The phrase came in during the Second World War, when Britain’s Ministry of Information encouraged people to become practical and patriotic during times of rationing.

The do-it-yourself movement was revived as a fashion story in the Seventies, first as hippy chic and then with psychedelic rock bands dressing up jeans with tie-dye tops, suede-fringed vests and the rest. Then there was Punk, the great counter-cultural movement that took over the Seventies and early Eighties with its vintage clothes.

And now Punk is back – not in its depth of rage whipped up by the poor, angry and inventive, but rather by that maestro of creation, John Galliano, whose role as Creative Director at Maison Margiela gets stronger and more striking each season.

In a powerful, but different way, Viktor & Rolf continued to raid their stockrooms, making something new with what they already had.

Both shows were signals of more thoughtful attitudes towards high-end “new” clothes.

Maison Margiela: Reclaiming Fashion

A bucketful of pink paint, a stained brush and an artificial rose-coloured flower spelled out John Galliano’s message – even before the colourful clothes were shown on a runway whose floor matched the particular shade of pink on the walls.

The Maison Margiela clothes were vivid in colour, striking in production and masterly in their deliberately raw patches.

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The show was all about upcycling clothes that an entire generation now describes as “pre-loved” –creating present and future fashion from its past.

That came through on the runway as outfits in bright tones and with a single gesture to enhance the reality. That meant a giant bow as a neckpiece, or just a piece of fabric decorated with basting stitches.

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When a coat was perfectly cut, it might be decorated with traditional checks on collars or punched with holes that let the pattern peep through.

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Given that Galliano never invites members of the audience backstage, the shownotes – unlikely to be written by him – explained his thought process: “For the Maison Margiela Artisanal Spring/Summer 2020 collection, Creative Director John Galliano identifies the nature of the bourgeois gesture and investigates the impact of heritage codes in the age of cyber-industrial revolution. Societal uniforms are anthropomorphised through body language: the nonchalant shrug of a coat off the shoulder, the insolent tie of a bow, or the conscious drape of a plaid over the arm.”

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Convoluted as they are, the words were revealing, with the designer going on to say: “Rooted in a revolutionary time of industrial advancement, gestures once indicative of a new refinement – of innovation, consumerism, and materialism – have become linked to the ideals of heritage. Through the recycling of bourgeois codes, an upcycling process of values is proposed: a new bourgeois consciousness founded in ethical principles of luxury.“

The explanation continued for several more paragraphs. But the general meaning was expressed in a single sentence: “The majority of the materials selected for the collection are reclaimed.”

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Having decided that “in a time of mass consumption, overproduction is embedded in our compulsive desire to recreate emotions attached to aspirational dress codes”, the house did not really need to elaborate on these elegant and desirable clothes.

Viktor & Rolf: Fabric Finder

“We have a childhood memory of Little House on the Prairie, so it is loosely inspired by its characters,” said Viktor Horsting, referring to the book and TV series about a 19th-century American farming family.

“Then there is Holly Hobbie, because of all the benchwork,” Rolf Snoeren added, to explain the mixed patterns on shoulder wings and mostly long dresses.

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The gist of the story was the duo’s memories of childhood stories, which acted as a theme for a collection built on swatches of fabric – all that was left in their studio after two seasons of upcycling, in which they had explored all their stored material. Nothing remained but an entire archive of fabrics swatches, which the designers described as “what the manufacturers send through the season when you are developing a collection”.

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The duo explained how they started patchworking all the small fabric samples: “It’s completed with this granny fabric, with all the pieces entirely or partially made with bench-work and connected with handmade braid and crochet.“

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To complete the positive upcycling story, the models were tattooed with messages, such as “Success is not final” or “Failure is not fatal” – spiritual thoughts tattooed on flesh.

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The other inspiration was an original Holly Hobbie dollhouse, now a collector’s item. The simple floral patterns seemed unsophisticated for couture, as Victor & Rolf present their work within no real sense of irony. Yet taken at face value, the result was refreshingly naive, charming and sweet.

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