Monday, September 29, 2008

Taming a wild spirit...

Today was the Dior show, and John Galliano seemed to be paying tribute not to Mr. Dior, but to Mr. Dior's successor Yves Saint Laurent. The inspiration was Africa, everything from safari, to earthy prints and animal skins, to tribal-esque embroidery, all territory that Saint Laurent made his own in the late 60's. When YSL mined Africa for inspiration, he infused the rawness and beauty of it with the fashions of the times. That meant wood and horn beaded minidresses, conical beaded tops that recalled fertility goddess statues, tiered raffia capes and gowns and midriff baring printed and beaded ensembles.

This seemed to be the route that Galliano took, comprising a short, flared out silhouette that made up most of the collection. Unfortunately John seemed to hesitate for reasons unknown; it could be pressure from the suits to keep the theatrics at bay, it could be a desire to restrain himself as a challenge, or it could be that his heart just wasn't in it. I'm not sure if we'll ever know for sure, and this seems to be the question that has arisen in response to Dior shows for the past few seasons. Most people have assumed that it goes above Galliano, that Dior and LVMH have told him to tame his wild spirit and by extension, to tame his imagination. This is not the first time that John has found inspiration from the Dark Continent. In his very first collection at Dior in 1997 he drew inspiration from the Massai tribe, using the colorful glass beaded collars that the tribe is well known for to create elaborate corsets over mermaid dresses, ballgowns and illusion warrior tunics.

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In 2000 he created a look that can only be described as the New Look if it was worn by a Voodoo shaman.

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And in 2002, he drew inspiration from fertility goddesses and, presumably, the Khoikhoi Venus body which has exaggerated breasts, stomach and behind. He combined this with elements of an MGM costume vault circa 1932 and Vivienne Westwood style punk to create colored metal body armor that paid homage to the voluptuous beauty of African women through a purely modern lense. Even the makeup had a sort of warrior vibe to it.

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But this time the results weren't anywhere near as captivating, creative or beautiful. In many ways it felt like the way any designer might interpret Africa. It wasn't something a genius like Galliano would create. The opening looks were neutral colors, tan, cool brown, beige, white and black. The silhouette was fitted on top and flared out at the skirt which gave the look a very youthful spin, odd given that the Dior camp has been trying to gain back a more mature, respectable clientele and dressing French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. All in all they were nice enough, but they don't scream special.

The segue into evening was a bit tricky. Out of the neutral opening came brights, which were honestly a little jarring. That's become something of a Galliano signature recently, using an unfocused array of super-bright colors. Luckily this was a spring collection, so Galliano couldn't bog the looks down with head to toe, dyed to match accessories and makeup. In fact, the makeup was good. Gone were the oversized drag queen eyes and lips. The only drama in the beauty sector was the hair, which looked a bit like a vase sculpted out of crimped hair. The short, colorfully beaded dresses reminded me a bit of the rainbow finale of party dresses at last spring's Lanvin collection, just not as much fun or desirable. Then came the full on evening dresses, which were all in shades of taupe, black and gray, and sheer below the waist....clearly taking inspiration from the Haute Couture collection over the summer. Some of them were beautiful, but they didn't connect to the rest of the collection.

These last few seasons Dior has been frustrating me to no end. We've all seen John do amazing things, not just with his couture shows, and not just when he's doing insanely theatrical runway pieces. He cuts beautifully and knows how to take his immense skill and create interesting, flattering, jaw dropping clothes. It feels like somewhere along the line he lost sight of that fact. And the most tragic thing about these recent collections is that they've made people lose sight of just how brilliant John Galliano is. These collections have people doubting that fact, questioning his genius and wondering if he's a one trick pony. I know that these collections aren't the result of a lack of imagination, skill or new ideas, they can't be. You don't just go from being a genius one day to a mere dressmaker the next.

all fashion show images from


Anonymous said...

Oh, I agree so much... and I feel your pain. It's Galliano but it's not GALLIANO. You know it's there... so where is it? I have been experiencing a similar frustration with McQueen although it's not as crushing as Galliano, yet anyhow. Anyhow, back to John... I still have great hope, like you, and will remain cautiously optimistic for the future.

Spike said...

I know!!! I've been feeling the same with McQueen, though like you said it's not as bad yet. But he's the same type of designer, the kind where you know what he's feeling when he designs. Their emotion is in their work.

I think if it was a lesser designer I would've given up by now.