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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Galliano chestnut cones.

Photo By Francois Goise

The preliminary makeup session.

Photo By Francois Goise

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

The show also referenced the mythical “bals des victimes,” cathartic parties said to have happened after the death of Robespierre at which relatives of those guillotined during the French Revolution acted out the executions in scanty attire, the back of their heads shaved and hair swept to one side, mocking their necks’ readiness for the blade. “I wanted to return to a sense of romance,” Galliano says, sprouting a grin and adding, “and with a debauched undercurrent.

Galliano launched his signature men’s wear in 2003, but had showed a knack for it early in his career, when London retailer Browns snapped up his 1984 graduation collection, titled Les Incroyables, and it sold up a storm. “I did men’s wear when I first started, and I sort of put it on the back burner,” Galliano says.

It is surely at full boil now.

The designer set an enthralling template for his epic men’s shows, in which a disparate cast of five male archetypes, from medicine men and surfer dudes to chimney sweeps and Casanovas, morphs from one  style to the next in ingenious ways, building creative tension and providing the visual thrills so rare in men’s wear. This season, Galliano ended his character studies with an ode to Beau Brummel, who “was the first to wear black and make black fashionable,” says the designer. Several days later, he took his bow after a triumphant Dior couture collection, inspired by Dutch masters, in one of those Brummel looks, a giant black tulle bow at his neck, a top hat over his bejeweled waistcoat and sheer shirt.

In today’s tough economic climate, Galliano says, creativity must be forceful and a brand’s message clear. “No middle roads,” he declares, clenching his fi st over his chest. “In a hurricane, you have to stand very firmly on your feet.”

To be sure, Galliano’s no-holds-barred approach to men’s wear is not for the faint of heart, but its strong identity has helped the collection quickly muscle its way into the marketplace. Galliano chief executive officer Pierre Denis, who joined the firm from Dior last October, says men’s wear already accounts for half of the Galliano business, and the fall-winter collection was a “huge hit” with buyers. “The show pieces and avant-garde items usually have sold out before they hit the store, and this season has proved no exception,” Denis says.

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