In a display of creative audacity, in 2000 Dior’s John Galliano presented one of the most controversial fashion shows ever staged: a haute couture collection inspired by Paris’ homeless population, specifically the hobos he claimed to observe while jogging along the Seine. Already known for wreaking gorgeous havoc on couture traditions—in 1997, he showed a wild Matrix-inspired show at Versailles—Galliano offered clothes deconstructed into exquisite dishabille, including some that looked like newspapers piled on for warmth; for makeshift jewelry, he strung compilations of assorted garbage, from dented kitchen utensils to mini whiskey bottles. WWD‘s laudatory assessment: “It wasn’t offensive, perhaps because he shows such great affection and respect for his subjects, and even falls in love with them a little.”
Much of the rest of the world disagreed. In France, appalled reaction registered from fashion critics and social welfare advocates alike. In the U.S., The New York Times‘ Maureen Dowd likened the show to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s street sweep of the homeless. At first, Galliano called his critics “bourgeois people, condescending and smug.” As the controversy continued, however, he took a more conciliatory tone, offering in a statement, “I never wanted to make a spectacle of misery.”
This story first appeared in the November 1, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Since then, Galliano’s inclination toward high controversy has tempered, but the glories of his couture have not. Case in point: his dazzling effort for spring 2007 that melded geisha exotica with New Look chic, a collection that, WWD wrote, “put couture back on its high-fashion pedestal.”