While it’s a topic that I have often overlooked, fashion has been an undeniable stone in the foundation of both high and low culture, serving as a point at which the worlds of commerce, films, music, and art have all intersected. It has become impossible to explore any of these areas thoroughly without seeing how the world of fashion has overlapped with all of them. Whether it’s costume design for films and television series, the latest business suits for the bigwigs of industry, the wardrobe supplied for commercial photography and modelling, or the extravagant apparel of celebrities walking the red carpet, fashion is an integral element of the modern cultural zeitgeist. And in recent memory, but especially in the last two decades, it’s hard to find another fashion designer who has shaken things up as much as John Galliano.
Controversial designer John Galliano, head of Dior from 1996-2011, has often been referred to as “the rock star of fashion”. Like a rock star, Galliano’s designs have pushed the boundaries of the fashion world with their combination of his haute couture (high culture) fashion mindset and the more counterculture Goth and Punk do-it-yourself aesthetics. He has also courted controversy on numerous occasions, both for his designs, and for his outrageous statements. Galliano has also drawn considerable influence and inspiration from the world of Fine Art. This becomes particularly apparent in his Ready-to-Wear 1997 Fall line (aptly dubbed the “Siouxsie Sphinx” line), which combined imagery taken from Ancient Egyptian artworks and the styles of the Goth sub-culture that was cultivated by none other than Siouxsie Sioux of the Post-Punk/Goth-Pop band, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and for his Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2008 line, which built upon the themes and aesthetics of the aforementioned line and explored other influences.
Galliano drew inspiration from Siouxsie Sioux, whose own fashion aesthetics were a mix of the black leather, metal spikes, dog collars, and tousled hair of Punk, the fishnet stockings and garters of the Cabaret dancer, and the theatricality of Kabuki performance with its luxurious silk robes, pale facial makeup, heavy eyeliner, and dark lipstick. Another important aspect of Siouxsie’s style was her love of the artworks of the German Expressionists and the artists of the Vienna Secession, most notably Gustav Klimt. The influence of Klimt’s work is most apparent on Siouxsie and the Banshees’ 1982 album A Kiss in the Dream House, which as an aside is often considered the band’s greatest artistic achievement in their early Post-Punk days, and, along with a trio of albums by pioneering Goth-Pop band The Cure, helped to establish the sound of the Alternative and Goth genres as distinct from the umbrella terms “New Wave” and “Post-Punk”. Sioux’s style was a combination of Punk, New Romantic, and the emerging Goth, and it would rise in prominence throughout the late ’70s and ’80s, and help give birth to the Goth look of the ’90s adopted by Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, and others.
Looking even further into the progression of influence and inspiration, Gustav Klimt was moved to emulate much of what he admired in the artworks of the Ancient Byzantines and Greeks, with their lavish mosaics, recurring geometric patterns (of triangles, squares, and spirals), and bright flourishes of gold leaf. Klimt’s art, more of which can be seen HERE, was striking in its modern style and yet still incorporated ancient elements, resulting in something that felt both timeless and fresh. Klimt’s work was considered controversial and subversive when he, along with artists Koloman Moser and Max Kurzweil, and architects Joseph Hoffman and Joseph Maria Olbrich began the movement known as the Vienna Secession. The group’s motto was “Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit.” (English trans. “To every age its art. To every art its Freedom.”)
This motto accurately reflects Galliano’s attitude towards fashion as well. We can best see the effects of these various stylistic progenitors in Galliano’s opulent and elegant dress from the Haute-Couture Spring-Summer line in 2008. Here one can see echoes of Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees, Gustav Klimt, and classical works of art and design from the Byzantine tradition. Much like a garment made from different materials, which are cultivated and gathered from different places, then carefully dyed, cut, and sown together following the plans of a designer, these seemingly disparate influences and inspirations all come together via the direction of creative peoples. Seeing this progression forwards and backwards through time not only hits home just how much art and culture is reverberated throughout the ages, but also how art in one form, the visual arts, can impact art in other forms, music, performance, and fashion.
Currently some of Galliano’s most spectacularly flamboyant designs, including the one featured in the photo above, are on view until March 3, 2019 at the Denver Art Museum as part of the special exhibition Dior: From Paris to the World, of which the Denver Art Museum is the sole location. If you’re interested in seeing more of Galliano’s Siousxie Sioux and Gustav Klimt-inspired designs for Dior, please follow these links to slideshow of his 1997 Ready-to-Wear Fall line and his 2008 Haute Couture Spring-Summer line on the Vogue website:
John Galliano’s Fall 1997 Ready-to-Wear Line for Dior
John Galliano’s Spring-Summer 2008 Haute Couture Line for Dior
From its opening in 1947 being protested for its extreme opulence during post-WWII austerity measures to its use of cultural misappropriation in the many themes for each fashion line, from the small size of both its dresses and its models to claims of plagiarism, the house of Dior has been no stranger to controversy. But nothing has been quite so controversial as a series of highly insensitive, violent, and anti-Semitic remarks made by John Galliano, which lead to his subsequent firing as the fashion company’s Creative Director. Galliano had held the position for almost fifteen years at the time of his termination. The reason behind it were ultimately two separate incidents when Galliano, who was drunk on both occasions, made some pretty horrific statements to patrons of a cafe in Paris, and then later again in the same cafe where the incident was caught on video and shared online. In the video, Galliano said, “I love Hitler. People like you would be dead today, your mothers, your forefathers would be fucked gassed, and fucking dead.” Galliano’s remarks were made in France, where it is illegal to make racist statements or to promote fascism, and so he was arrested, and his Legion of Honour medal revoked.
Ironically, much of the artwork that Galliano took inspiration from, be it the work of Odilon Redon, Edvard Munch, or Gustav Klimt, was part of a trend of radical artistic reinvention in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a trend largely born of Jewish intellectualism, and one that Hitler would denounce as Entartete Kunst: degenerate art. Greater irony, still, is that Galliano, a Gibraltar-born citizen of Britain, and a homosexual man, would also have found his own works banned and himself imprisoned by the Nazi regime.
Since his firing, Galliano has had a temporary residency for fashion designer Oscar de la Renta in 2013, and then in 2014 he became the Creative Director for Maison Margiela.