John Galliano: Rise of the Fallen Angel

Words Adri­an Glass

Open­ing image: John Gal­liano Fall 1994 Ready to Wear Col­lec­tion. Mod­el Kate Moss

John Gal­liano’s rise to fame, from its ear­ly begin­nings in Lon­don of the ear­ly 1980s to when he first moved to Paris in 1990, show­cased him­self as an inspir­ing British design­er who not only could cre­ate a dis­tinct take on the avant-garde, but was able to rework the fin­ery of cou­ture. With­in his vision­ary styles of inver­sion and ref­or­ma­tion that is tra­di­tion­al fash­ion. Intent­ly study­ing the cou­turi­er mas­ters of yes­ter­year, whilst at the same time immersed with­in the street styles of 80’s and 90’s Lon­don night club scenes. Gal­liano held an instinc­tive skill of strip­ping back fash­ion as a process of styl­i­sa­tion, to which he was able to engi­neer into his own con­cept of aes­thet­ics. 

Born in Gibral­tar in 1960 to a Gibral­tar­i­an father Juan Gal­liano and a Span­ish moth­er Ani­ta Guil­lén, the fam­i­ly, includ­ing his two sis­ters, moved to Eng­land in 1966 set­tling in Dul­wich, south of Lon­don. Both his par­ents being staunch Roman Catholics, sent a young John Gal­liano to be edu­cat­ed in his final years of school­ing at Wilson’s Gram­mar School. His moth­er a Fla­men­co dancer always dressed an ado­les­cent Gal­liano in her neat­ly styled ensem­bles. It was this flam­boy­an­cy of his moth­er’s cre­ativ­i­ty, rather than Gal­liano’s father who was a plumber, which had an impact on him at an ear­li­er age. His inter­est in fash­ion lead him to study at the famous Saint Mar­t­in’s School of Art, grad­u­at­ing in 1984 with an hon­ours degree of Fash­ion Design as his forte. The Saint Mar­t­in’s grad­u­a­tion show is where Gal­liano revealed his Les Incroy­ables col­lec­tion, which three decades lat­er, one can see his main­tained inter­est in reshap­ing tra­di­tion­al attire, not in some do-it-your­self styl­i­sa­tion akin to fel­low UK design­er Vivi­enne West­wood’s ear­li­er pieces, but rather to restruc­ture cloth­ing into a more abstract­ed and sur­re­al way, yet at the same time offer­ing a rebel­lious and cheeky con­cept. Inspired by the French rev­o­lu­tion, Gal­liano’s first run­way col­lec­tion held true to its inten­tion of the decon­struc­tion and rebuild­ing of styles past and present. 

In the years that fol­lowed after Gal­liano’s debut Les Incroy­ables col­lec­tion, he was able, on a lim­it­ed bud­get with his ded­i­cat­ed cre­ative team in tow, to design a slew of fol­low up col­lec­tions after his grad­u­a­tion show­ing in 1984. In an attempt at draw­ing finan­cial back­ers Gal­liano pro­duced a fur­ther six col­lec­tions, the first being the 1985 Fall/Winter array for Lon­don Fash­ion Week titled the The Ludic Game, which embell­ished an even more intense­ly take on the mod­erni­sa­tion and remould­ing of tra­di­tion­al gar­ments. When look­ing back at his ini­tial strug­gle as a young and poor fash­ion design­er, there was a stal­wart ded­i­ca­tion to not down play the impor­tance of fits in con­fig­ur­ing Gal­liano’s pre­ci­sion of the envi­sioned styles he cre­at­ed. With­out com­pro­mis­ing the stan­dard of his tem­plate. How­ev­er, Gal­liano was unable to secure ade­quate fund­ing for his lat­er col­lec­tions. He decid­ed to move from Lon­don to Paris in 1990, strug­gling once again to source a finan­cial backer, it was in 1993, after miss­ing the Octo­ber Fash­ion Week show­ing of the same year, Gal­liano, with­out any sub­stan­tial mon­e­tary assis­tance, was able to stage an impres­sive show­ing for his 1994 Spring/Summer col­lec­tion. He cre­at­ed, in his very skilled and pre­cise way, a roman­ti­cised and fic­tion­al sto­ry of Princess Lucre­ti­a’s escape from her Russ­ian nobil­i­ty. Orches­trat­ed with mod­els dressed in cou­ture inspired out­fits, as they fran­ti­cal­ly ran down the run­way. This was the begin­ning of Gal­liano’s fas­ci­na­tion with rushed aes­thet­ics. 

Yet, his finan­cial woes con­tin­ued, as a rel­a­tive­ly unknown UK design­er sleep­ing on the floor of his friend’s apart­ment in Paris. It was Amer­i­can Vogue edi­tor-in-chief Anna Win­tour who became aware of Gal­liano’s plight and more impor­tant­ly she wit­nessed his ‘Princess Lucre­tia’ show. Win­tour allowed Gal­liano to have a large edi­to­r­i­al for the Lucre­tia col­lec­tion, which was seen in the March 1994 issue of Vogue. She also flew him to New York, set­ting up meet­ings with New York’s wealthy, as he began to gath­er clien­tèle for his cou­ture styles. And it was also Win­tour, through her finan­cial con­tacts, that Gal­liano received $50,000 from the invest­ment bank Paine Web­ber to assist in pro­duc­ing his future col­lec­tions. But, it was the renown jour­nal­ist and fash­ion pow­er bro­ker André Leon Tal­ley, with his pletho­ra of con­nec­tions with­in the fash­ion indus­try, who intro­duced Gal­liano to the socialite, São Schlum­berg­er, wife of Pierre Schlum­berg­er, a bil­lion­aire oil mag­nate from French aris­toc­ra­cy. To which Gal­liano was giv­en the use of São’s 17th Cen­tu­ry and slight­ly run down Parisian Hôtel Par­ti­c­uli­er to host his up com­ing col­lec­tion. Upon receiv­ing these ben­e­fi­cial aspects, he returned back to Paris, quick­ly begin­ning work on what was con­sid­ered a defin­ing moment of his career, the 1994 Autumn/Winter col­lec­tion held at the São’s man­sion in Paris. This was Gal­liano’s cou­ture imprint, not only show­ing his abil­i­ty to restruc­ture fash­ion under his cre­ative mind­set, he also pro­mot­ed, in a very respect­ful nod, the cou­ture mas­ters of bygone eras. Gal­liano’s 94′ A/W col­lec­tion was staged with­in São’s inti­mate salon set­ting, util­is­ing only spe­cif­ic rooms of the 17th Cen­tu­ry town­house. Ensur­ing the most impor­tant aspect of the Paris Hôtel Par­ti­c­uli­er show­ing was its mar­ketabil­i­ty, it was by far the most com­mer­cial to date for Gal­liano, essen­tial­ly leap­ing him into the more cor­po­rate aspects of the fash­ion indus­try. In 1995 pres­i­dent of the French con­glom­er­ate LVMH Moët Hen­nessey, Bernard Arnault, prompt­ly appoint­ed Gal­liano to head the cre­ative design for Givenchy. With Gal­liano pre­sent­ing his first cou­ture show for Givenchy in Jan­u­ary 1996, how­ev­er his time at the famed fash­ion house was short lived, with anoth­er UK design­er gain­ing promi­nence with­in the fash­ion world; Alexan­der McQueen, who end­ed up replac­ing Gal­liano after just after one sea­son. LVMH, aware of Gal­liano’s tal­ent, trans­ferred him over to Chris­tan Dior, to which he main­tained the helm as head design­er from 1996 to 2010. At that time not only did Gal­liano achieve notable éclat for his Haute Cou­ture ball­room gowns, Dior allowed Gal­liano to cre­ate his own sig­na­ture range, also show­cas­ing a series of com­mer­cial­ly appeal­ing Ready-to-Wear col­lec­tions with­in the fif­teen years of design­ing under the Dior ban­ner.

In such a pro­lif­ic rise to fame, Gal­liano’s down­fall was equal­ly as sig­nif­i­cant. On the 25th of Feb­ru­ary 2011, near­ly six­teen years with Dior as their cre­ative direc­tor, at a Paris bar, Gal­liano was arrest­ed after his now infa­mous out­burst, to which it was dis­closed by the design­er in the court case that fol­lowed, of an alco­hol and drug fuelled tirade against Jews. The con­se­quences from Gal­liano’s fall from grace was momen­tous, he was imme­di­ate­ly asked to step down as cre­ative direc­tor for Dior, as anti­semitism is con­sid­ered a crim­i­nal act in France, with French author­i­ties charg­ing Gal­liano for racist and anti­se­mit­ic remarks. But it was the con­tin­ued dam­age to his pro­file and fame as a design­er which took its toll, if one is to look at the begin­nings of Gal­liano’s rise from a finan­cial­ly poor Lon­don fash­ion design­er in the 1990s, to his ascen­sion into the fash­ion world in the ear­ly part of 2000. It was, in lieu of Gal­liano’s tal­ent­ed attrib­ut­es, the pow­er­ful voic­es in fash­ion that may have also been let down by his mis­aligned out­burst, as they, in the ear­ly part of his career, were the ones who had vouched for him, name­ly Anna Win­tour. Gal­liano’s decline was not just attrib­uted to him los­ing his rep­u­ta­tion with­in the fash­ion indus­try, but also the con­fi­dence oth­ers had in him. Fur­ther blows occurred in 2013, when he lost all licens­ing to his name­sake brand­ing for Dior’s cou­ture col­lec­tions, with sev­er­al legal bat­tles occur­ring in the two years after the inci­dent. Gal­liano was essen­tial­ly sacked from his own brand name which was owned by the LVMH group. 

How­ev­er, it was Anna Win­tour who once again offered Gal­liano a career life­line, she nego­ti­at­ed for him to return back to the indus­try as a back­stage advi­sor for the Cou­turi­er Mas­ter Oscar de la Renta and it was that same year, in 2013, with mul­ti­ple court hear­ings between Gal­liano and Dior, that Gal­liano’s assis­tance to the late De la Renta shone through. Win­tour, who had always been aware of Gal­liano’s intrin­sic under­stand­ing of cou­ture, ensured that Oscar de la Renta’s final show, before he passed away, would be an over­all suc­cess. Gal­liano, on the 12th of June 2013, gave his first tele­vi­sion inter­view for an Amer­i­ca news net­work after being dis­missed from Dior. In receiv­ing a let­ter of abso­lu­tion from the Anti-Defama­tion League, he asked “...I hope through my atone­ment, I’ll be giv­en a sec­ond chance.” And in Octo­ber 2014 that sec­ond chance was grant­ed, when the par­ent com­pa­ny Only The Brave, that owns Mai­son Margiela stat­ed that John Gal­liano would be the brand’s new cre­ative direc­tor. 

On Jan­u­ary the 12th 2015 at Lon­don Fash­ion Week, Gal­liano returned as a vin­di­cat­ed fash­ion design­er. More so was his absolve in show­ing what a skilled cou­turi­er he is, nam­ing his first col­lec­tion for Masion Margiela as the “Arti­sanal”. Thus set­ting the stage for his come­back, he also paid a respect to his roots, Lon­don. And in doing so, Gal­liano has been able to renew, but not relive, his time once again.