When John Galliano created his own fashion brand in the 90’s, fashion had never been so ethereal. With runway shows based on the romance of times gone by and his use of colour to create a certain atmosphere, he managed to transport the people who were invited to his shows to somewhere they never believed could exist on this earthly plane. With women draped in diaphanous materials and faces painted beyond recognition, they looked as if they were otherworldly beings, gracing the audience with their glittering presence. The designer himself is a controversial figure, and I certainly don’t agree with what he has said in the past, but it isn’t his opinions that I am going to examine with this article. It is his creations that have left me spellbound; everything else is superfluous.
Below are a few of my favourite Galliano collections.
Princess Lucretia, own label, 1993
Inspired by the grandeur of Russian nobility, one of Galliano’s first ever runway shows showed the trials and tribulations of a Russian princess named Princess Lucretia, who escaped from her lavish yet suffocating life at the royal court to pursue her love of a young serf. There was the image of the Princess running through the dark forests of Russia, her long skirts ripping and her curled hair unbinding itself as she calls out for her love. The large crinolines the models, including a young Kate Moss (pictured above) wore contrasted with the short bodices with appeared to have ripped or come loose from the skirts themselves, making the pieces seem as if the models have truly been running through the forest, not caring whether their extravagant gowns survived, for love is by far more powerful and well-wearing than a gown, no matter how luxurious by Victorian standards could ever be. The silk that rested on top of the crinolines seems to have almost been thrown on them in a rushed, uncaring manner, giving the collection a lavish yet distinctively unpolished look.
Asia Major, Dior, 2003
Inspired by his visits to China and Japan the previous year, Galliano created a salivatingly sensual collection that was a burst of colour in the fashion world. Models strutted the catwalk with their faces painted white, their lips painted red in the shape of petals, contrasting with the prismatic garments that were draped on their shoulders and piled on top of their heads. Their hair was bound with hairsticks that were decorated with ribbons and small flowers (the technical term being “kanzashi”) that cascaded down their shoulders, alluding to the Japanese geisha. Colourful fur trims, tinsel and patterned fabrics are used in a way as to symbolise not only the staunch traditions of China and Japan respectively, but also the change these countries underwent once they began to trade with European merchants, and this particularly changed the way the Chinese and Japanese dressed. The European merchants brought them different goods such as furs and cotton, and the Chinese and Japanese peoples traded silks and spices.
Some even take inspiration from India, with the use of gold trimmings on the face as shown above, which links to decoration used in Hindi customs. One of my favourite pieces from another Galliano show from 2007 is similar to the oriental theme, yet seems to take upon the western world’s view of glamour more than “Asia Major” does.
Ready-To-Wear Collection S/S, Dior, 2004
Rosy-cheeked, lace-clad mademoiselles of times gone by and porcelain dolls were the inspiration of Galliano’s most decadent collection. Models with their hair piled on top of their heads and pearls falling from their necks strutted onto the catwalk with virginal allure, draped in frills and lace and knee-high stockings, making them appear so darling and sweet, perhaps even sickengly so. Their hair was back-combed in order to achieve the same look as the towering, powdered wings worn by members of the aristocracy of the Georgian era, Marie Antoinette in particular, who was the very person who made those imposing wigs fashionable. They would be decorated with all kinds of delicacies available at the time, even fresh fruit and model ships! The ribbons and silks are used in a way to make the models appear like porcelain dolls themselves. They are almost wrapped up in these beautiful materials in order to protect them because of how delicate they are.
Their cheeks are rouged, linking back to the fashions of long ago, but their eyes are darkened using purple eyeshadow, and in some cases streaks run down the models’ cheeks where tears have fallen, adding a slight edge to the collection. In a way this adds a different element to this particular collection, as it is almost as if everything not as it seems. For me that is what intrigues me about Galliano’s collections because they always seem to tell a story, and for me that is what pulls me to his designs.
Paris Fashion Week F/W Collection, Dior, 2009
This collection is probably the most theatrical of all of Galliano’s collections. Taking inspiration from the hostile wastelands of Siberia and the Baltics, the models, who almost appeared like winter faeries in floating veils and golden body adornments, walked through a glittering whirlwind of fake snow, their hair dusted with silver paint and frosted winter flowers. Their eyes and eyelashes seemed to glitter with the reflections of another world as they gazed intently upon an imaginary horizon.
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