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Everyone knows John Galliano is a brilliant designer and showman. But savvy social chronicler as well? Just maybe. Without question, he knows how to gauge and exploit the current zeitgeist in his fanciful work. Sometimes that means going all-out, over-the-top iconoclastic. And sometimes, times like right now, it means shining a light on that which is beautiful, aspirational and true to one’s core. Now, the man who has famously translated “Matrix” aggression and tragic homelessness into important haute extravaganzas finds such deliberate edge too harsh for the moment.
“In this economic climate, I want to focus on the established codes of Dior: the Bar jacket, the panther, the lily of the valley,” Galliano said of his approach for Christian Dior this fall. That platform translated into a collection both controversy-free and superb in its own right.
Galliano showed in the meandering salons of the house’s Avenue Montaigne headquarters. Whether or not intended to lessen production costs, the move fed perfectly into his theme — C’est la fievre de la cabine! — inspired by Monsieur Dior’s favorite models of yore. To wit, a Sunday afternoon visit to Galliano’s ever-changing studio there revealed its appointments du jour: huge photographs of those women at their high-haute best, all killer stares and impossible bodily angles. “It’s to inspire the little ones, to help them feel what they’re wearing,” he said of the girls who would walk his show. “Some of them are 16.”
His girls proved more than up to the task, deftly flaunting the designer’s glorious tailoring, curvaceous dresses and explosive gowns, each an extravagance of color, texture, structure, embellishment…and of skill — a point Galliano made with no small level of artistic flourish. “It all begins with the corset,” he said. He thus sent out models wearing dresses worked in various transparencies, or seemingly caught in states of undress — jacket sans skirt, enormous ball skirt sans bodice. It was, he quipped, as if the girls weren’t ready, and someone said, “Just go!” This allowed him to show off the craft of couture-building via the most intricate, exquisite undies imaginable — hand-made bras, corsets, girdles, garters, tap shorts, stockings — and to provide the kind of rich theater that is now as core to the house as the Bar jacket. Atop the corsetry: inventively molded and decorated takes on that iconic item; lean, your-slip-is-showing dresses, and volume galore, in a fab embroidered coat; short, crisp crinolines and dream-sequence evening stunners. As for color, it was gleeful — fuchsia, yellow, purple, orange — made all the more vibrant when played against underpinnings in black or blush tones. What a revelation.