Believe it or not, it’s been 15 years since the original Zoolander hit the big screen and introduced the world to a brainless male model who sought to find out if “maybe there’s more to life than being really, really, really ridiculously good looking.”
With the sequel set to hit theaters tomorrow, the fashion industry during Derek Zoolander’s runway absence has done little in the way of taking itself less seriously – highlighted by controversial moments, creative directors being replaced with the frequency of toothbrushes, and H&M x Balmain’s collaboration that turned people into gold-leaf-clad lunatics.
While the film itself was decidedly a parody of the entire world of fashion, one key attribute had real-life merits and reminded us that in certain cases, art imitates life.
Derek Zoolander’s main nemesis, Mugatu – played hilariously by Will Ferrell – illustrated the absurdity of the medium when he introduced his plans to unveil a line called “Derelicte,” which was inspired by the necessary wears acquired by homeless people in order to survive the rigors of street life.
While the very notion of turning one man’s trash into another man’s treasure may seem like one of the leading tenets of fashion, the very believability that a designer would stoop to such levels seemed like a “cinematic leap of faith.”
However, Zoolander was obviously keeping a close eye on the exploits of one of the most controversial designers in the business, John Galliano.
By the time the original film was scheduled to be released in the fall of 2001, John Galliano had earned the distinction of becoming the first British designer to head a French haute couture house when he took over creative direction for Givenchy in July 1995.
Following a two-year stay, Galliano made the leap to Christian Dior where he remained at that post for 15 years.
Despite a lengthy tenure at Dior, it was not without controversy. Specifically, his Spring/Summer 2000 haute couture collection in Paris seemed like something you’d see… well… straight out of a movie.
Much like Will Ferrell’s Mugatu character, Galliano found his inspiration for the Dior collection in the homeless people he would see clad in rags as he jogged along the Seine – resulting in the creation of a specially-designed newspaper-printed silk which gave the feeling of hopelessness and despair.
The New York Times noted of the show at the time, “[The models] came down the runway raggedy and baggy, some swathed in newspapers, with torn linings and inside-out labels, accessorized with empty little green J&B whiskey bottles, tin cups dangling from the derriere, bottle caps, plastic clothespins and safety pins. Some posed as lunatic ballerinas in frayed tulle, others in straitjackets and white madhouse makeup.”
WWD called it, “one of the most controversial fashion shows ever staged.”
In response, the French homeless community staged a protest in front of Dior headquarters in Paris bearing signs that read “cynicism isn’t cool!” and chanting “respect the homeless.”
Whereas we now know that further controversies would be in John Galliano’s future, the designer was just as defiant then when met with criticisms as he was in a contemporary context when his name was sullied after making anti-Semitic remarks, calling his critics “bourgeois people, condescending and smug.”
Eventually, Galliano went from being on the offensive to a decidedly more tame approach, saying, “In no way did I mean to be offensive to anyone.”
In subsequent years, the “homeless chic” aesthetic has been further explored despite being parodied and mocked heavily in Zoolander.
In 2010, Vivienne Westwood’s menswear show featured models in frostbitten makeup carrying bed rolls and pushing shopping carts.
Esquire noted of the YEEZY Season 1 lookbook which was shot by Jackie Nickerson that “it almost seems like he’s biting Mugatu’s infamous ‘Derelicte’ collection from Zoolander.”