John Galliano and the Power of Innovation
While Alexander McQueen has long been known as fashion’s enfant terrible, it is John Galliano who perhaps deserved the title first. Born in Gibraltar before moving to London at the age of six, Galliano (real name Juan Carlos Antonio Galliano-Guillén) metamorphosed a childhood of flamboyant mom-approved dressing and subsequent bullying into a career that has had more ups and downs than the lives of many designers put together.
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After studying at London’s famed Central Saint Martins, Galliano impressed with his graduate collection. Entitled Les Incroyables, the 1984 French Revolution-inspired showcase featured wildly disheveled looks and was snapped up by Browns boutique in full; a rare occurrence for any young talent. This initial fanfare didn’t last long, however, for Galliano’s love of drama and storytelling led to bankruptcy in 1990.
But instead of remaining down in the dumps, the designer swapped his British setting for a French one, moving to Paris and befriending Moroccan designer Faycal Amor who financially backed his first proper show in 1989. Galliano enjoyed this security for only a few years before again facing major struggles in 1993. But it was a meeting with Vogue greats Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley that steered the fantasist’s course to true stardom.
The pair introduced Galliano to patron of all things creative Saõ Schlumberger who allowed for a comeback that would rock the industry. Letting him use her grand mansion as the location for his FW94 show, the designer managed to enlist the (free) help of Linda Evangelista, Kate Moss and co. and conjured up the entire dark affair from just one bolt of fabric.
While one could simply go on listing Galliano’s many achievements, it’s his persistent strive for innovation that is his most captivating trait. The above show marked the point where a fledgling talent finding his feet became a self-assured man who knew how to create a reaction using nothing but clothing.
Guests were seated in various rooms that evoked the set of a romantic drama complete with strewn rose petals and an unmade bed. Due to financial constraints, Galliano only designed 17 outfits (a far cry from the 50+ he would later exhibit as Dior’s creative director). But the heady mix of orientalism, the character each model played and, of course, the luxurious locale signaled the beginning of the fashion show as a spectacle not to be missed.
Soon after, Galliano endured the stresses of heading up two labels: his own and Givenchy, where he was appointed head designer in 1995. Two years later, he moved over to Dior where his theatricality flourished. Always championing the new and unexpected, Galliano’s shows combined historical and ethnic references picked up on his travels, traversing the landscapes of Shakespearean forests, ancient Egypt, royal regimes and ghostly towns. The designer’s own outlandish outfits worn to make his grand finale bow received just as much applause.
As well as pushing the limits of what a fashion show could be, Galliano broke through the boundaries of designing. His revolutionary use of the bias cut—which was made famous by Madeleine Vionnet in the 1920s—has resulted in scores of admirers from fashion schools. Where the majority of designers move with the fabric, cutting on the bias involves going against the grain, turning the fabric at a 45 degree angle in order to create a figure-hugging illusion. A successful bias cut is fluid and sensual. A failed one only leads to puckering and general unevenness; things that one would not expect from a luxury brand.
Galliano reportedly fell into the bias cut technique after someone informed the unknowing student that the way he had been cutting his 1986 Fallen Angels collection had a name. “Bias teaches you so much. It’s just the most beautiful way of cutting,” he said at Vogue’s 2017 Forces of Fashion conference. Undoubtedly after countless attempts hidden away in his atelier, he managed to perfect it - most notably for Dior’s celebrated slip dresses. Look carefully and you’ll see an elegant drape that could only have come from one pair of hands.
Not satisfied with his achievements thus far, Galliano continued to challenge himself, somehow adopting the bias cut on printed fabrics without altering the flow of the pattern. His move to Maison Margiela (which came about after being fired from Dior and ousted from his own label due to a 2011 anti-Semitic tirade) equaled more challenges. His first Artisanal men’s collection, shown in June, introduced the bias cut to menswear for the very first time. Describing it as “a whole different trip” to WWD, Galliano’s couture aesthetic saw him going against the grain on stiffer - and therefore, much more difficult to work with—fabrics like tweed, proving that laziness is simply not in his vocabulary.
Demonstrating innovation in just one area is accomplishment enough for a designer working in an industry filled to the brim with competitors looking to create the next social media moment. And despite Galliano’s affection for historical eras, the 57-year-old has proved time and time again that he is not stuck in the past and can indeed move at the fast pace of modern society.
Designers like Marc Jacobs have gone so far as to ban phones from shows in recent times, refusing to entertain the question of: If it wasn’t posted on Instagram, did it really happen at all? Galliano, on the other hand, has embraced the smartphone sensation. For Margiela’s SS18 couture collection, he encouraged showgoers to (shock horror) take pictures with the flash on. This was rule-breaking enough for most but looking back at their photos after the last model had left the runway, attendees were surprised to find a disconnect between what their own eyes and their screens had witnessed. You see, Galliano had turned scientist, crafting a fabric that reflected light and turned seemingly neutral colors into holographic rainbows.
Although he admitted to at first “being taken aback by how everyone was seeing shows through their phones,” his concerns can’t have been too deep-seated as, fittingly on July 4, Galliano’s independent self-soared, attaching smartphones to Margiela holsters for the ultimate livestream. If that didn’t pique the curiosity of the fashion crowd, the fact that Galliano released a podcast just days before explaining his methods was enough to make diehard fans swoon.
Perhaps it was his time away from the design studio that allowed his experiment side to make a powerful reappearance. Or perhaps his relentless headline-creating is a sign of a talent that cannot be stopped with the mere passing of time. Whatever his secret, it seems like Galliano’s past demons have well and truly been vanquished.