The Artist Behind Maison Margiela's Wearable Tulle Portraits

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Photography by Lucie Rox for DazedDigital

AnOther speaks to Benjamin Shine, the artist tasked by John Galliano to transform a white cotton coat into the smoky, ethereal face which floated down Maison Margiela Artisanal's Spring 2017 catwalk

John Galliano’s Spring 2017 collection for Maison Margiela Artisanal explored the multifarious layers that we apply to ourselves in the digital age: chiffon and tulle embroidered with abstract interpretations of female faces were overlaid upon garments and models alike, their distorting transparency explicitly analogous to the Snapchat filters and Facetune-style apps so ubiquitous in 2017. One particularly mesmerising example of such layers was a coat fabricated from bonded white cotton whose black tulle lining “poured out to form a face handmade by Benjamin Shine,” giving the illusion of a disembodied face floating down the runway. Shine describes his practice as “painting with fabric,” and here such a phrase seems particularly apt – yet, as the artist explains, functional, too: “I particularly loved the idea of the tulle flowing from its functional role as the lining of the coat into the smoky, ethereal image.”

Shine has long been working with the idea of manipulating a single length of tulle, focusing on creating portraits in order to demonstrate the capabilities of his techniques. “I learned that John had seen my work some time ago,” he explains, “and his design team got in touch with the invitation to collaborate on the Artisanal collection. John presented me with beautiful concept of my tulle work floating on a white coat and it quickly progressed from there.” Over several months of discussion at the Margiela studio, Galliano and Shine explored the possibilities of collaboration that extended beyond Shine’s practice of creating static artworks, and eventually the piece took form. However, this time the artist explains that “the process of creating the tulle work was particularly challenging, as this was a three-dimensional piece with movement. Additionally, I wanted to see if it could be fully transparent, to give a smoke-like effect. After countless construction and fabric tests, the effect was achieved, essentially resulting in the piece requiring me to hand-manipulate and hand-stitch it.”

The craftsmanship of such an approach directly resonates with the principles of the Artisanal collection, which was conceived of in 2006 as an opportunity for the house’s design team to transform the antique clothing, fabric and ephemera that they source from across the globe into exquisite garments by hand. As Susannah Frankel wrote last year of the pieces created under Martin Margiela himself for the collection: “A tunic was made out of interlinked cheap faux gold rings – the sort generally to be found at the fairground – worn brown leather belts were collected and sewn together to become a pair of trousers, rare embroideries were applied to humble fabrics including calico and denim… Clothes were turned upside down, inside out – taken apart at the seams.” Here, such an approach – that of turning tulle lining into something utterly hypnotic – was fabricated anew; it was Maison Margiela through and through, but as seen through the uniquely appealing lens of John Galliano.