John Galliano and Christian Dior

(Part 2)


He was a master of creating shapes and silhouettes. The American press dubbed this the ‘New Look’; Dior’s designs were more voluptuous than the boxy fabric conserving shapes of the recent war styles. Woman had been called upon during the war to work on farms and in factories while the men were away fighting. In peace time those women were expected to return to passive roles as housewives and mothers, leaving jobs free for the returning soldiers. They wanted a complete change from uniforms and plain clothing and the ‘New Look’ gave the impression of indulgence, womanhood and overflowing bank accounts; a taste of glamour after years of austerity. Dior said that,

“The prime need of fashion is to please and attract,” and “uniformity is the mother of boredom”.

Eventually Christian Dior had the most successful haute couture house in Paris and each show included up to 250 outfits. Resisting the temptation to experiment Dior stuck to the same successful formula for each collection, one third new, one third adaption of familiar styles and one third proven classics.

Christian Dior’s Bar Suite is one of the most important designs of Dior’s first collection (1947). The tight fitting jacket emphasises the wearer’s tiny waist which creates a feminine quality, as does the shaped bust line. The sloping soft shoulders move away from the wartime uniform jackets, though the clean straight lines still hold echoes of more formal wear. This silhouette needed many underpinnings to create the sculptured lines; the jacket would be able to hold itself up when not worn due to this extensive support and would control the body shape in a manner similar to that of a corset of the 19th century. The many small pleats in the full black wool skirt fall to mid calf length in an opulence of fabric that women were looking for after the shortages of wartime. It is backed with cambric and is extremely heavy. The jacket is in a classic beige smooth silk without pattern which emphasises its straight, smart but feminine lines. Although Dior’s designs are moving away from the plainness of wartime clothing he is still using conservative colours. The skirt, in contrast to the light beige, is dramatic black wool of fine pleats. The jacket required 3.7 metres of silk and fastened with five hand stitched buttons. The Bar suite cost 59,000 francs which would result in the wearer having a sense of neat sophistication and wealth. This was an outfit for a women living in a period of wealth and new abundance who wanted to forget the deprivations of war and to indulge.

The Zemire design was the highlight of Christian Dior’s 1954 autumn/winter collection. It was a very historical design having the appearance of 18th century styles and the dress was named after an opera by Gretry first performed in 1771. The Original ‘Zemire’ dress was in soft grey silk with mink fur trimmed cuffs, though later a version in bold red was made. The first ‘Zemire’ was one of a selection presented to Princess Margaret in 1954 at Blenheim Palace; a dress worthy of a princess. Once again we can see Dior’s sloping shoulders, highlighted bust and nipped in tiny waist with overflowing skirts. This is the shaped, clear feminine lines of the ‘New Look’. Dior particularly liked shawl collars and curved neck-lines such as these, which help develop the curvaceous forms he is creating. The large quantities of satin fabric are a decadence which people were desperate for after the hunger driven shortages of war. In the eye of the people, if the princess was considering such a dress then such excessive amounts were acceptable and the time of basic clothing was at an end. Like the Bar Suite the colour of this first Zemire dress is not overly vibrant but in subtle natural tones with no pattern to detract from the curves of the dress. Perhaps Dior was influenced by the dove grey Edwardian elegance of his mother. The smooth silk texture is directly contrasted by the mink fur on the cuffs. The dress is well suited to its purpose in the way that it gives the wearer indulgence and excess with a beautiful smart sculptured elegance. The New Look revolutionized woman’s dress and re-established Paris as the centre of fashion after World War II.

John Galliano is of a younger generation than Dior. He was born on November 28th 1960 in Gibraltar with a Gibraltarian father and a Spanish Mother; he first went to school in Spain. Due to Galliano’s mother’s, Spanish and religious background, Galliano was always dressed in immaculately pressed and starched clothes, even for trips to the corner shop. He said that,

“I think that all the markets, the woven fabrics, the carpets, the smells, the herbs and the Mediterranean colour, is where my love of textiles comes from.”

As a child he moved to and lived in London, then later in Dulwich attending Wilson’s School in Wallington and in 1984 he graduated in fashion design from St Martin’s School of Arts. While working as a dresser for the National Theatre’s production of ‘Danton’ he was inspired by the use of organdie to base his degree show, ‘Les Incroyables’, on the French revolution. Galliano then began his career as a fashion designer with his own label under his name, heavily influenced by designers such as Westwood with adaptations of historical costume. He was awarded British Designer of the year in 1987, 1994 and 1995. In the 1990s Galliano moved to Paris to find financial backing. Later the next year he started working with Kylie Minogue, designing her costumes for her, ‘Let’s Get to It Tour’. Galliano re-invented the bias cut which he used in the collection he showed in Paris; this led an appointment at Givenchy. In 1995 he was appointed as the designer of Givenchy by Bernard Arnault, this way becoming the first British designer to be head of a French haute couture house. Galliano follows a very strict exercise regime, saying that, “Working flat out was a necessary step to take. It helps to concentrate the mind.” He also found his inspiration for the couture collection of boho-meets-hobo chic while running past the homeless people lining the river. Currently, between his own label and Dior, Galliano produces six couture ready-to-wear collections a year and a new mid season range under his own name, “G Galliano”. Galliano is perfectly suited to Dior, due to his use of feminine shape and adventurous use of colour.

This beautiful seashell dress, made in 1988, by John Galliano is made out of white cotton organdie which is cut on the bias to give it a smooth flowing shape. It is asymmetrical to follow the organic lines of seashells. The skirt has many layers in continuing rows of overlapping bands. These could either be interpreted as the texture of a sea shell or as the foaming sea itself. This is a very feminine dress with soft flowing lines and gentle curved shapes. The skirt will flow around the wearer in a beautiful free form. By contrast, the bodice is boned to control and enhance the shape of the wearer; the boning lines drawing the eye down to the narrow waist. The white fabric suggests a delicate purity; drawn from the seashells of its title or foaming wavelets. This would be a dress sold for a special occasion, probably a party, the floating organdie giving the wearer a feeling of weightlessness.
The Design Museum website describes Galliano as ‘fashions great romantic’. Organdie featured a lot in Galliano’s first 1980’s collection. He liked shirts made from the fabric and wrote,

“I love the romance, you know, charging through cobbled streets in all that amazing organdie.”

This design from the 1998-1999 autumn/winter collection, also exhibits Galliano’s love of the romantic. At this point in his designing career he was working for the house of Dior and a well established designer. This is a very theatrical outfit with historical overtones of the Elizabethans. It is a lady dressed in a man’s style using bold russet colours and an opulence of fabric. The outfit clearly shows off the lady’s figure with tight leggings and boots, the wide, folded back bodice framing the bust in a provocative manner. The fitted waist is emphasised by the wider skirt of the tunic and low belt line. The sculptured form of the russet tunic is contrasted by the wide Henry VIII style fur coat, which hangs in casual flowing folds, accentuating the width of the models shoulders. Strong russet patterning on a white background creates a confident loud attitude. This outfit would most likely be worn on an opening night, a design to draw attention by creating a dramatic, daring, statement. The wearer would have to be a very bold person.

In Conclusion, Dior took the muted colours and clean lines of war time fashions and developed them into the smart feminine opulence found in the Bar Suit and the Zemire design. Jackets lost their masculine cut and instead were sculptured to enhance the assets of femininity; high bust, small waist and wider hips. Although the clean cut shapes reflect wartime uniforms, the lavish use of fabric is in direct contrast to the tight austere lines of wartime deprivations. These designs were very successful styles with tremendous chic and expensive quality. Dior’s classic formula for success, which is still relevant and popular today, made Paris the centre of the fashion world. He created a fashion empire, relevant to and reflecting the political concerns of his day.

Like his predecessor Dior, Galliano also uses a sculptured bodice and feminine wide flowing skirt in the 1980’s sea shell dress, but here the clean smart lines are replaced by a romantic flounce; soft and gentle in a design drawn from the natural world – not Dior’s man-made war-time influence. The 1990’s Elizabethan design also has a masculine influence, but this time, a bolder maleness; the strong excess of fabric thrown into a free-flowing cloak. Whilst Dior was moving away from the aggressive broad shoulders of war time uniforms, Galliano broadens the shoulders to create a bold statement. He added British subversiveness and colour to the conservative Dior house, revitalising it, designing not only for established rich customers but a new young clientele of both men and woman.

Both designers are using a historical influence; Dior uses corset type underpinnings and Galliano has boning in the seashell bodice. Dior’s Zemire is based on an 18th century opera and Galliano based his 1990 design on an Elizabethan costume. In each design the outfit enhances the wearer’s femininity. Galliano’s tunic flares out to short heavy pleats in a similar manner to Dior’s wide flaring padded jacket hips, and all these designs revel in excessive quantities of fabric.

In Dior’s two styles we see little development of fashion over the seven years. Galliano’s styles reflect the decades of their creation; the feminine flowery innocence of the 1980’s to the bolder extremes of the 1990’s. This is a much more striking development than the changes in Dior’s two outfits. It is interesting that the masculine influence of Dior’s suit and sumptuous use of fabric is found 50 years later in the work of Galliano – but in less refined, more aggressive masculinity.

Out of these four designs it is difficult to say which is my favourite because each reflects the era in which it was created. However, overall I would say that it is probably Galliano’s design from his 1998-1999 autumn/winter collection. I love the overall daring, dramatic statement of this outfit; the strong bold colours and flowing opulent lines. A wearer would immediately very feel confident and vibrant.



John Galliano and Christian Dior