Backstage, John Galliano was wearing a worn-out leather jacket with a blurry mustachioed face painted on the back. He insisted it was Einstein, but it looked just like Edgar Allan Poe, which worked because Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" was as good a reference point as any to launch a dissection of Galliano's latest fashion delirium. That story's depiction of a decadent society partying itself to death rang those odd sociopolitical bells that Galliano willfully gongs on a regular basis. He blithely quipped that his underwear licensees would be cheered by a middle passage of bruised, bloodied models in skimpy underthings, but there were those in the audience who saw echoes of Clive Barker's Hellraiseror Abu Ghraib.
Galliano claimed inspiration from the "frost fairs" of Tudor England, when the Thames would freeze over and the entire communityfrom aristos to lowlifeswould turn out to party on the river. The designer saw his first group as princelings moving among the people, with their gilded hair and Tudor-look outfits artfully bunched and wrapped from parkas, shearlings, jackets, and coats. None of the mannequins seemed to actually be wearing the clothes they had on, but we got the picture (and if your eye for detail could penetrate the farrago, there were items as beautiful as a jacket with metal-beaded hem and sleeves, and a fur-trimmed parka with oriental dragons scrolling up its sleeve). Holbein's portrait of Henry VIII was a big influence, apparently, and there was definitely a Tudor volume in the doublet-and-hose effect of big black velvet parkas trimmed in fur.
Thus ended our fashion show for the evening. Then began the descent into Galliano's Chamber of Horrorsthe torturers, the tortured, the carnival in hell that closed the presentation, with the devil's jester minions capering on humanity's grave. Gee, someone's gotta do it, and it might as well be Galliano, with a sense of theatricality so acute it makes one wonder whether he's missed his calling. No, the designer enthused backstage, he's actually selling clothes. "It's about time we did some advertising and opened a shop for Galliano Homme," he declared pointedly. After a collection like this, it's no wonder he craves a bigger stage.