Monday, Apr. 26, 2004

John Galliano

From his sisters he learned to dance flamenco, and from his mother he inherited a bold sense of color. But John Galliano's wildly romantic and often outrageous imagination is all his own. And it's that untethered sense of fantasy and drama that has made him the most influential fashion designer of his generation. His extravagant runway shows are legendary; he once transformed Paris' Gare d'Austerlitz into a North African suq and hired an antique steam engine to transport models into the station. He gave an Edwardian garden party at the Bagatelle and re-created a turn-of- the-century gala at the Opéra Garnier. But more important, he has changed the way we dress, the very proportions of our clothes, cutting dresses and jackets on the bias—against the grain of the fabric—so that they spiral around the body and give women a sinuous, sexier shape.

The son of a Gibraltarian plumber and a Spanish mother, Galliano, 43, grew up in gritty south London and moved to Paris in 1990. Fashion at the time was all about giant shoulder pads and drab minimalism, but Galliano was determined to change that. In 1995 he landed the job of revitalizing the stuffy house of Givenchy and shocked the French fashion establishment with his romantic vision of disheveled beauties in chiffon slips and billowing ball gowns. A year later, when he took over the coveted top spot at Dior, a couture house with a heritage more sacred to the French than the 35-hour workweek, the French press saw it as a sign of the nation's cultural decline. But Galliano persevered, teaching the Dior ateliers, where clothes are made by hand, to cut everything closer to the body. Soon Princess Diana and Nicole Kidman were calling. By the end of the 1990s, Galliano's sexy, spaghetti-strapped silhouette had become the uniform for all red-carpet-bound celebrities.

With the introduction of handbag collections, remodeled stores and multimillion-dollar ad campaigns, Galliano has reinvented Dior, transforming it from a dowdy duty-free label into a must-have global brand—and the most intrepid creative machine in international fashion.

From the Archive
Paris When It Poufs: Haute couture was once the undisputed empress of the fashion realm. Now it's bowing and scraping to Hollywood's royalty