Left: John Galliano (British, born Gibraltar, 1960). Coat, fall/winter 1996–97. Magenta and forest green printed ivory felted wool with light blue, gray, and white striped silk with brocaded crest lining. Purchase, Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 2004 (2004.410). Right: John Galliano (British, born Gibraltar, 1960). Dress, fall/winter 1996–97. Beige laser-cut suede Gift of John Galliano S.A., 2005 (2005.46).
John Galliano’s fashion presentations, whether under his eponymous label or for the House of Dior, are typically theatrical extravaganzas. His themes are often wild syntheses of anachronistic juxtapositions and geographically conflated narratives. The unexpected results of his wild jumbling of references are all the more engaging for the possibility of recognition and identification of their constituent parts. A Galliano ensemble is less a seamless blending than an astonishing accretion of allusions.
For his fall/winter 1996–97 collection Galliano cited as inspiration the Native American. Setting his defile, or runway presentation, in an exercise track for polo ponies with bales of hay, strewn feathers, oil barrels, old tires, and a Cadillac bumper with Wyoming plates sticking up from the soil established the mood for his series of models wearing war paint instead of blush. Taking the idea of the deerskin suede garments of the Plains Indians, Galliano applied laser cutting to create what Women’s Wear Daily called “suede string shimmy dresses”. Cocoon coats alluded to the geometric patterned blankets worn by the Navajo. In Galliano’s interpretation, the original woven wools are rendered in an ikat-like print on felt, transposing the original reference from the American Southwest to Central Asia. This post-modern construction, loose in its citations of history and culture, results in an ensemble simultaneously redolent of past narratives and resolutely of our time.
This was quite a pivotal collection for John Galliano—creatively and historically. If you view it on its own, you can see the cut, the techniques, the clash of fabrics. I love the print of the coat, and look at the dress—all the cuts. There was nothing like this at the time! Fashion really should capture the moment in textures and styles—but if you view it in context, this collection hit the runways just as I was debuting at Givenchy.
I think as a designer, it is very important that I keep my own line—as well as my work for Givenchy and now Dior—alive and exciting. Both have to get 100 percent. As much as we were putting our heart and soul into Givenchy, it was very important to me that my own label did not look or feel neglected—it’s like having two children. Both are special and require equal love and attention. This collection took its inspiration from many sources, one of which was the Native American patterned blankets. We used the prints as coats and contrasted volume with the bias—it wasn’t like anything Paris had seen in a while. But fashion should be there to shock, to challenge, as well as seduce.
I remember Paris so clearly at the time—we were preparing for the collections in the middle of this major nightmare strike and all of us had to walk to work—there were moments when I wondered if we could make it happen! We did this show at the Polo de Paris riding stable and transformed it into an Indian settlement! Could you get any further from what Paris Fashion Week was expecting—or indeed from what we were working on at Givenchy?! It was a mix of the Duchess of Windsor meets the Hopi Indians! We opened with a horse galloping down the sand runway, cast-off oil barrels, abandoned tires—all that drama and the heroine was this proper squaw who wiggled about on the podium to straighten her seams!!
I think the more you are called on to create, the more your imagination can soar. And with the techniques and secrets we were seeing at Givenchy, it only made us burst with ideas for the girl who has guts and glamour!