Christian Dior by John Galliano deconstructed floral silk wrap skirt, ss 2001
About the Item
John Galliano for Christian Dior
Known for introducing rich theatricality and memorable fashion spectacles to the runway, John Galliano has enjoyed a singular career. The audacious British designer has garnered universal acclaim for genre-breaking collections not only at his eponymous label but also for Christian Dior.
From his embroidered absinthe-green Oscars gown for actress Nicole Kidman to the iconic sleeveless newspaper-print dress that Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw made famous, Galliano’s intricate and multifaceted work is reliably newsworthy, drawing on history as often as it embodies a fresh and forward-looking sensibility, and over the years the designer has helped shape an ever-broadening new legion of enthusiasts for Parisian couture.
Born in Gibraltar but raised in South London by strict Roman Catholic working-class parents, Galliano attended the all-boys Church of England grammar school, where his flamboyance and interest in art attracted the attention of bullies. Eventually, Galliano ended up at the prestigious design and art school Central Saint Martins College (then called Saint Martin’s School of Art), where fellow British designers Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen also trained.
Galliano flourished at Central Saint Martins. While a student, he worked in the costume department at the National Theatre in London. His graduate collection in 1984, dubbed “Les Incroyables” and named for post–French Revolution fashion lovers, was modeled by close friends of his and earned a standing ovation. The line ended up in the storefront windows of London luxury boutique Brown’s on South Molton Street, and Galliano’s first official collection — after he graduated — debuted at Paris Fashion Week in 1989.
In the early 1990s, Galliano’s relationship with his financial backer, Plein Sud’s Faycal Amor, ended, and by 1994, he was broke and sleeping on the floor of a friend’s apartment. Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour and then-Vanity Fair editor André Leon Talley stepped in and introduced the budding designer to Portuguese socialite and fashion patron São Schlumberger and others. At Schlumberger’s Hôtel Particulier, Galliano’s shows became the stuff of fashion legend. His collection, a blend of Japanese modernist style as well as nostalgia for Art Deco and 1940s’ tailoring, earned raves in glossy magazines and garnered the attention of Princess Diana, Madonna and other fashion luminaries.
Once the Galliano name was well known among the world’s most stylish set, the chairperson of LVMH, Bernard Arnault, appointed Galliano head designer of French fashion house Givenchy. One year later, in 1996, LVMH moved him to the design team at Dior. In just eight weeks, Galliano produced 50 looks for Dior Haute Couture’s brilliant Spring/Summer 1997 Maasai collection and would ultimately design a mind-boggling eight collections a year for the storied French fashion house until 2011. Today, Galliano is the creative director of Maison Margiela.
When Christian Dior launched his couture house, in 1946, he wanted nothing less than to make “an elegant woman more beautiful and a beautiful woman more elegant.” He succeeded, and in doing so the visionary designer altered the landscape of 20th century fashion.
Dior was born in Granville, on the Normandy coast, in 1905. His prosperous haute bourgeois parents wanted him to become a diplomat despite his interest in art and architecture. However, they agreed to bankroll an art gallery, which Dior opened in 1928 in Paris with a friend.
This was the start of Dior’s rise in the city’s creative milieu, where he befriended Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau. After seven years as an art dealer, Dior retrained as a fashion illustrator, eventually landing a job as a fashion designer for Robert Piguet, and in 1941, following a year of military service, he joined the house of Lucien Lelong. Just five years later, with the backing of industrialist Marcel Boussac, the ascendant Dior established his own fashion house, at 30 avenue Montaigne in Paris.
Just two years after the end of World War II, the fashion crowd and the moribund haute couture industry were yearning, comme tout Paris, for security and prosperity, desperate to discard the drab, sexless, utilitarian garb imposed by wartime deprivation. They needed to dream anew.
And Dior delivered: He designed a collection for a bright, optimistic future. “It’s quite a revolution, dear Christian!” exclaimed Carmel Snow, the prescient American editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, famously proclaiming, “Your dresses have such a new look.” The press ran with the description, christening Dior’s debut Spring/Summer haute couture collection the New Look. “God help those who bought before they saw Dior,” said Snow. “This changes everything.”
Dior’s collection definitively declared that opulence, luxury and femininity were in. His skirts could have 40-meter-circumference hems, and outfits could weigh up to 60 pounds. They were cut and shaped like architecture, on strong foundations that molded women and “freed them from nature,” Dior said. Rather than rationing, his ladies wanted reams of fabric and 19-inch waists enforced by wire corsets, and the fashion world concurred. The debut got a standing ovation.
In the subsequent decade, Paris ruled as the undisputed fashion capital of the world, and Christian Dior reigned as its king. With the luxuriously full skirts of his New Look, suits and his drop-dead gorgeous evening dresses and ball gowns worthy of any princess, Dior gave women the gift of glamour they’d lost in the miserable years of war.
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