James Anderson talks to stylist Simon Foxton about his work on John Galliano’s first ever “men’s couture” collection for Maison Margiela
John Galliano and Simon Foxton first met four decades ago, at college, in London, when they were teenagers. During the subsequent years, both of them would become major fashion forces, albeit in very different ways: Galliano – as the high profile, extrovert, ultra-talented super-designer who blazed a trail with his eponymous label, as well as his unforgettable work at Givenchy in the 90s, Dior during the Noughties and, more recently, his Creative Direction at Maison Margiela. Foxton, meanwhile, assumed a more behind-the-scenes role as a stylist, quietly but very significantly influencing men’s fashion. His upbeat, vibrant, multi-racial editorial work has since the mid-80s graced the pages of i-D and various men’s style magazines of note; he has consulted for brands including Nike, Levis and Stone Island; The Photographers Gallery dedicated an entire exhibition to Foxton’s work in 2009 – a first for any stylist – and some of the images he has in the past co-created now reside in the permanent collections of the Tate Modern and the V&A. If you look at his work from 20 or 30 years ago, more often than not it looks utterly contemporary, a testament to his visionary powers.
For Spring-Summer 2019’s Artisanal Men’s collection and show, Maison Margiela reinvigorated a menswear landscape which had, in recent seasons, become awash with increasingly-lazy street and sportswear-inspired designs. A newer narrative from Galliano and his team duly shunned logo-splattered Tees and dress-down informality, instead celebrating sartorial reinvention and individual self-expression through the application of haute couture techniques and plentiful cutting on the bias, which are usually reserved for women’s finery. The results? A bespoke collection that took some of its cues from the traditionally-masculine territories of tailoring, fishing and hunting, but clashed these to dizzying effect to propose a new kind of man-glamour via corsets, kimonos, capes, latex, vinyl, shirt dresses, overcoats, cowboy boots, leather jackets and sheer bodysuits. All of which successfully meets the Maison’s pre-stated aim of provoking, ‘a conversation with a new masculinity in motion.’
Although it has not been widely acknowledged, Foxton – who always likes to be rather low key – played an important role in this collection. Reunited with his old college pal, all those years since they graduated from Saint Martins, he worked alongside John and the men’s design team at the revered House, bringing his inimitable sense of colour, cartoonish-sexiness and brilliant research to the proceedings, to style a collection and show that’s since been enthusiastically hailed as a game-changer by pretty much every fashion media pundit.
James Anderson: You and John Galliano were both fashion students at Saint Martin’s School of Art in the early-80s, long before the college was rebranded as Central Saint Martins. What are your memories from that time?
Simon Foxton: Yes, John and I were at Saint Martin’s at exactly the same time. He and I did our Foundation year there, between 1979 and 1980, and then both went on to the Fashion BA after that, although he did the four year course and I did the three year. I remember him best from our days on Foundation. There were four of us who usually hung out together for lunch in the canteen: John, myself, my still-great friend Stephen Male – the ex-Art Director of i-D – who now lives in the States, and the painter David Harrison, who had sung with the Sex Pistols for about a week before Malcolm McLaren discovered Johnny Rotten. David was a bit older than us, wonderfully glamorous in a Rockabilly/Roxy Music kind of way, and super-camp and loud. Lunchtimes were absolutely hilarious and I remember us being ejected from the Saint Martin’s canteen on more than one occasion for our raucous behaviour. By the time we were on the fashion courses we had different sets of friends.
JA: What was John like when he was a fashion student?
SF: John was possibly the most diligent student I can remember. Me and my friends spent a great deal of our time at Saint Martin’s skiving off for coffees in Soho, or planning our outfits for the forthcoming night out, whereas John often took extra classes and usually worked at college as late as possible. His creative talent is firmly backed by a deep knowledge of cutting and tailoring, plus a very strong work ethic.
JA: Can you recall when you were first ever aware of Maison Margiela, back in the day when Martin Margiela was at the helm?
SF: I was aware of it, of course, quite early on, but it really came more into focus when Jonathan Kaye began assisting me back in the mid-90s. Jonathan was a huge fan of Margiela and owned a few pieces. He was the one who brought it to my attention properly.
JA: Maison Margiela continues to command a huge amount of respect within the fashion industry, under the Creative Direction of John Galliano. Why do you think that is?
SF: I think Maison Margiela is synonymous with an intellectual approach to design, and although under each of these designers the house aesthetic is very different there are underlying codes and practices that endure.
JA: How did your involvement with the men’s collections at Maison Margiela come about?
SF: It first came about because I was contacted by a friend, Wallace Faulds, who now heads up the menswear design team at Maison Margiela. Wallace and I had first worked together whilst he was designing Galliano Men, under John’s direction, and he had come down to a shoot that Nick Knight and I were doing for Arena Homme + using the Galliano Men’s collection. Subsequently Wallace and I worked more closely together when he was designing at C.P. Company, and we had stayed in touch since. He said they needed a stylist for the Menswear. I thought it might be interesting as I had enjoyed working with Wallace in the past and had never really worked with John. I’m not sure how I felt about it. Intrigued, I guess. I had thought John was an interesting and not obvious choice to take over the reins at Margiela so I was keen to see what he would do.
JA: How involved were you in the whole process of this collection being put together?
SF: My job at Margiela was far more hands-on than I had first imagined it would be. So I was there from the start, helping with influences, mood boards, and then I was involved in all the development stages – colour decisions, fabric choices, accessories, sample reviews, and so on. As you know, I’m a great collector of imagery and an avid user of Tumblr and Pinterest, so I provided a mass of pictures for John and Wallace to sort through and add to their own findings. This included, initially, a lot of images of traditional men’s wardrobe classics plus a great deal of tailoring and coats. John also wanted to explore some of the Maison Margiela house language, so we looked into “dressing in haste”, “unconscious glamour”, “appropriating the inappropriate”… that kind of thing. Later on, we went more into detail with S&M and fetish clothing ideas, plus “reverse dressing” and African studio photography. The influences were very diverse. Plus, I brought in vintage clothing samples that were to help to spark off ideas, or even just details. It was very full on, time consuming, but extremely interesting.
JA: Are you able to reveal what your brief was?
SF: I worked on two collections over the past year. I can’t go into too many specifics, but John’s approach to design is very interesting. He starts with one or two very strong personal thoughts or concepts. These are then taken up by his team, and myself, and expanded upon. He likes to see lots of visuals and is open to left-field ideas and loves new things he hasn’t come across before, but through all of this information he never deviates from his inner belief in what the collection must be and say.
JA: Did John talk to you much about his themes, inspirations and the design techniques behind the collection?
SF: Yes, I had quite a few initial meetings with John, and the menswear team, where he talked in detail about his ideas for the collection. There is a real depth to how he thinks about clothing and a lot of the ideas are not always immediately apparent when you first look at the collection. But once you take time to look you become aware of the richness and the layers of meaning. It was great fun to be part of it and extremely rewarding to see close-up how John works.
JA: You’re known for being a pioneer of street casting and really diverse multi-racial casting; were you involved in the casting process in this instance?
SF: John has a very specific idea of the type of models he likes so my own personal tastes didn’t come into it. I worked with the wonderful casting director Jess Hallett to fulfil John’s requirements.
JA: How do you find working behind the scenes at a show?
SF: I’ve done a few shows over the years but nothing of any great note. If I’m honest, it’s not an environment I particularly relish. It’s very fraught, too many people, and then over in a flash. I prefer the control of creating a still image. Although having said that, doing a show is quite an adrenaline buzz.
JA: The collection seems to be moving the whole streetwear “vibe” of the past year or so to a more challenging and radical place. Are you enjoying this new “men’s couture”?
SF: I think that John correctly spotted that the whole fashion-streetwear thing had probably reached its zenith and it was time to move things on. For the most part, I imagine that men will still continue to wear comfortable, sports-casual, streetwear-inspired clothing, but in the more rarified circles of high fashion I think sportswear has run its course and a return to tailoring and dressing up feels more exciting and radical.
JA: Which are your own favourite pieces or “looks” from the collection?
SF: I particularly like the pieces made from reworked antique kimonos. The fabric is cleverly bonded and then remade into totally new shapes such as a military inspired boiler suit. Very new and very beautiful.
JA: Will you be wearing any of the collection yourself, Simon?
SF: I’m afraid not. I don’t wear fashion. Too old, too fat. It’s not for me! C