Critics rave as formerly 'banished' John Galliano makes London comeback

LONDON (AFP) - Almost four years after being banished from the Paris fashion world over an anti-Semitic rant, designer John Galliano made his comeback in London for Maison Margiela on Monday to overwhelming critical acclaim.

The 54-year-old, seen as one of the most brilliant fashion talents of his generation, was sacked by Dior in 2011 after being filmed delivering a drunken tirade in a Paris bar.

He has kept a low profile since and some say they will never forgive his remarks, but Maison Margiela gave him a second chance by appointing him creative director in October.

The collection blended his flamboyant, theatrical style and the brand's more minimalist look.

His comeback was attended by some of fashion's biggest names, including supermodel Kate Moss, Anna Wintour, the editor of US Vogue, and celebrity shoe designer Manolo Blahnik.

"I thought the show was sensational," British fashion editor Hilary Alexander said after the catwalk.

"It's what we've been missing. It was John Galliano at his absolute peak of perfection, combining the skills of a fabulous atelier with his own very romantic and fantastical vision."

Burberry's chief executive Christopher Bailey said the show was "magical", while Blahnik told reporters: "Fabulous! I'm glad he's working again." Alexandra Shulman, editor-in-chief of British Vogue, said the collection was a "template".

"You couldn't really look at it exactly for the clothes, it was more to give the spirit of what he wanted to do," she said.

The announcement that Galliano's first show would take place in London, the city where he trained and made his name, was seen in some circles as a snub to Paris, the home of haute couture.

The collection was subsequently dropped from the Paris couture calendar at the end of January, although it will be shown by appointment.

"It was beautifully done and you remember what a talent he is," said Natalie Massenet, chairman of the British Fashion Council and founder of online fashion retailer Net-a-Porter.

Maison Margiela said the choice of London for the show reflected both Galliano's personal links and the city's traditional tailoring history and heritage.

Galliano was born in the British territory of Gibraltar but was raised in London and studied in the capital before heading to Paris to join Givenchy and then Dior.

He was viewed as the driving force behind the huge success of Dior during nearly 15 years at the fashion house.

But his glittering career imploded after he was captured on a mobile phone video hurling abuse at people in a bar in Paris's historic Jewish quarter.

He was found guilty in September 2011 of making anti-Semitic insults in public - an offence under French law - although he was spared jail and was instead fined.

He apologised and blamed his outbursts on alcohol and drugs, and underwent rehabilitation.

Since then, he had been almost entirely absent from fashion, apart from a three-week designer-in-residence role at Oscar de la Renta's workshop in New York in 2013.

His excommunication ended last year following a decision by Renzo Rosso, president of the OTB group that owns Maison Margiela, to bring him on board.

Rosso said he felt "incredible emotion" and promised the next show would be held in Paris.

"I could even cry, the dresses were beautiful, what he's done is incredible," he said.

"John is coming from London. He started here, he said: 'I want to start again from London'. "This was just to say okay, we're back."

Galliano was not an obvious choice for the house founded by the famously reclusive Belgian designer Martin Margiela.

"At Margiela, there has always been an appreciation of the mundane side of clothes, the little details that are usually ignored, the creases, the linings... whereas Galliano would exalt the splendour of the garment," fashion historian Lydia Kamitsis told AFP.

But she said there were common themes: "They have the same perspective in terms of technique, the appreciation of work done by hand, attention to detail, and the analysis of history."

Will Galliano's show herald a return of the designer?

"The fashion world has a very short memory - it loves what it once hated, hates what it once loved, kills as much as it gives birth to - it's a very cynical and very volatile world," Kamitsis said.