John Galliano's Fashion Evolution
Operatic couture, flights of historical fantasy, the wasp-waisted interpretation of Dior’s New Look, intricately embroidered Chinoiserie, runners and riders, Victorian maximalist crinolines, Japanese geishas, not to mention his deconstructed pirate gear over at his namesake label. Although Galliano’s era in fashion has ended, perhaps permanently, his designs have certainly earned their place in fashion’s hall of fame.
At one time the greatest, most extravagant, fantastical and eventually powerful of all the designers, certainly of his generation, has now left the business after a sensational downfall, arrest, sacking from Christian Dior and his own brand, rehab and withdrawal from public life after 15 years as creative director of Christian Dior and the ceaseless round of collections that entailed, and over two decades as high fashion’s most extravagant star.
Born in Gibraltar to a Gibraltan Father and Spanish mother in 1960, Galliano then moved to South London aged 6 although took his Latino influences with him, including impressions of the souk in Tangiers. Following Grammar school and then art foundation, he won a place at Central Saint Martin’s to study illustration, whereupon his tutors convinced him to switch to fashion design.
As part of his immersion in the London fashion scene he was a dedicated clubber, attending parties such as Taboo, run by performance artist and designer Leigh Bowery, as well as working as a dresser at the National Theatre (the costume design of which was also a huge influence on him). Similarly to Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen, he also spent time on Savile Row, assisting tailor Tommy Nutter.
His graduate collection in 1984, dubbed 'Les Incroyables’ was based on French revolutionaries and, unusually, was bought up by London Boutique, Browns and took up the entire window display. His ascension through the fashion ranks during the Nineties was by no means simple, as not one but two financial backers pulled out on him, leaving no resources to create collections. Eventually in Paris, Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley took pity on him, hooked him up with a textile company as an investor and a wealthy patron, São Schlumberger who lent him her Paris mansion as a venue for his first show – at which Kate Moss, Kate Moss, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell all modeled in for free. The invitations sent out to editors were rusty keys. The successful show kick-started his career and own label.
After a brief tenure at the haute couture house of Givenchy, Galliano was appointed the biggest job in fashion – creative director of Christian Dior. During his reign he became famous for his more-than-extravagant couture shows, featuring ever more elaborate outfits, hair and makeup, hats by Stephen Jones, bespoke and meticulously-dressed sets by Michael Howells, with the craftsmanship and ambience created occasion reducing even cynical fashion editors to tears.
John Galliano has been awarded a CBE by the Queen as well as the Chevalier in the French Legion of Honour by President Sarkozy. He has had books devoted to his work, in particular by Colin McDowell, the esteemed fashion editor, who was for many years Galliano’s champion and even mentor. He recruited him to judge the 2010 Fashion Fringe competition, which was founded by him to reward up and coming young fashion talent.
His very public downfall took place in February 2011, just before Paris Fashion Week. He was dismissed by Dior on March 1st. Later that year he went to court in Paris on charges of racist insults, found guilty and fined. He told the judges at the time that he was recovering from ‘a triple addiction; to alcohol, sleeping pills and valium’. With the exception of designing Kate Moss’s wedding dress; a classic Galliano, bias-cut slip dress embellished with gold sequins – he has not returned to fashion and is rarely seen in public. After a long hiatus without a designer other than Bill Gaytten, Galliano’s former pattern cutter, Belgian minimalist Raf Simons was appointed to the post at Christian Dior, to widespread approval from the fashion world.
The label John Galliano continues to produce collections, it’s creative designer is Bill Gaytten.