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“It’s only a toile”: Cinema Inferno’s Middle Act

25th July 2022 by Lauren Randall

A Cinema Inferno Blog

In May, with the final presentation of Cinema Inferno being only six weeks away, Maison Margiela invited a group of us to go over to Paris to see the collection as a work in progress.  “Remember, they are only toiles”, John told us (a toile being a prototype of a particular garment made out of stand-in fabrics etc.). What unfolded over several hours on that sunny Monday afternoon was our first encounter with the fifty-nine pieces that made up the collection, which we would be staging in July.  Models, including Lulu Tenney and Leon Dame, walked along a short runway, sometimes presenting in haut couture choreographies, as the body, contorted, twisted and turned in movements one would normally expect from dancers.

What became clear from this preview was the extraordinary boldness and richness of each individual look – how shape, volume, colour, and silhouette shifted across the collection as a whole. John talked us through the kinds of fabrics and techniques he was exploring.  He showed us what he called ‘Monster Shoes’; beautiful heels constructed out of different pairs of vintage footwear, reconstructed to create unique one-off works.  This process of taking apart and putting back together seemed to be a constant technique and I thought how closely our mode of creating theatre mirrored this methodology.  In our rehearsals we often take specific texts, or genres, or pieces of visual material and take them apart and re-arrange these parts in our making process.  John talked about weathering and revealing the inherent structure in the design of particular looks and again I could not help thinking how close this process was to our obsession with revealing how a particular moment is constructed on the stage, how we always show the world as one which is in the process of being presented in the theatre, how we rarely leave a visual image unweathered by our graphicalising aesthetic.

A few weeks later we were in a film studio on the edge of Leeds – various Netflix dramas were being completed in adjacent lots – one was set in the 1970s and we were regularly surrounded by vintage police cars and policemen with long hair, sideburns, and moustaches.  Lulu and Leon joined us in this process and seamlessly adapted to our methodology.  We sent dailies back to Paris for the team at Maison Margiela to watch and I reminded them that these were our versions of toiles.

And we worked with toiles right up to the week of the final performance – indeed, I started to get used to them, thinking sometimes that these would be the ‘looks’ that we would be presenting in a few days.  Then on the Monday before the show we saw the full looks for the first time.  Not toiles but the real thing.  You know, the toiles were often stunning, but on that Monday the replete looks took my breath away.  The intensity and texture of the fabrics – their weight, shape and volume captured my eye.  And the range of colours – how colour was structured in relation to the collection as a whole, to the unfolding narrative, the various hues of black, bursts of colour that then bloomed full in the last third of the performance. 

Now I knew what the difference was between a toile and the real thing.

Andrew Quick

Bente Oort performing and modelling in the noted 'Monster Shoes'.
Those ‘Monster Shoes’ in action. Photo: Britt Lloyd, courtesy of Maison Margiela. Muse: Bente Oort.

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