John Galliano: The Man and the Myths

A look behind the scenes as John Galliano prepares for his brilliantly subversive Paris men's wear show.

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Pat McGrath applying the powder.

Photo By Francois Goise

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Men's Collections issue 03/16/2009

John Galliano has such an expansive imagination that this season it required a warehouse larger than a football field—dotted with 18,000 votives in red glass jars and 10,000 twinkling crystal shards—to accommodate it. As he gathered inspiration for his latest collection, Galliano’s mind stretched across several centuries, taking in everything from the mythical figure Pan to kinky 18th-century English barristers, who were rumored to wear frilly women’s lingerie under their imposing robes.

So it should come as no surprise that the scene at Galliano’s headquarters the day before the show was an eye-popping one, with makeup wizard Pat McGrath powdering bare torsos to create halfman, half-goat creatures; hairstylist Julien d’Ys sculpting wigs with built-in horns and spray-painting hair, and milliner Stephen Jones crouched on the floor fluffing the animal-esque feathered pants one of them would wear.

“I don’t find men’s wear restrictive at all,” the designer deadpans as he fires up a Marlboro, takes a sip of lemon-spiked water and cracks open an inspiration book that’s as educational and culturally literate as it is beautiful.

Galliano’s passion is plain and infectious as he describes the allure of a sloping, banana-shaped coat lapel—a key detail in his fall-winter tailoring that was inspired by the military attire of Mr. Andrews in the famous 1750 painting by Thomas Gainsborough—and the waistcoats worn by high-society gentlemen in 18th-century London. The designer lauds the “nonchalance” of Andrews’ comportment, which he spun forward into the present day by injecting the attitude of Babyshambles front man Pete Doherty. He beckons a model dressed in show look No. 1 to demonstrate the attitude: his tricorn hat pushed back on his head, the cuffs of his boots turned down, his swagger oozing cooler-than-thou attitude and confidence. The model totes a musket, barrel turned toward the floor, as casually as if it were a guitar or a skateboard.

The drawings of English gentlemen, with their studied ensembles and pigeon chests, inspired Galliano to do some trompe l’oeil coats and jackets with built-in vests.

“We call it pre-layering….You know I’m really into waistcoats,” he says with a big smile, patting the one hugging his gym-toned torso.

More than just a dream maker and showman, Galliano is also a superb technician, given the dozen years as a couturier for Christian Dior (and briefl y Givenchy) under his belt. Many of the Polaroids for the run of show, with all looks shot on model-musician Scott Barnhill, depict outfits done in muslin, the fabric couturiers use to craft their silhouettes. With a finger, Galliano traces out the key shapes: the soft shoulders, the rounded “hammer” sleeves, the barrel-like parkas.

Galliano’s subversive side, along with his vast knowledge of fashion culture, comes out in the details: his cockade prints and a signature toile de Jouy with a naughty streak, depicting half-pinup, half-skeleton creatures amidst Galliano’s coat of arms. “You have to look really carefully because it’s really subtle,” he teased. The prints were rendered into oversize streetwear shapes, like bomber jackets, sweatshirts and peacoats, in which the designer can envision cool guys “tearing around Paris.”

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