Here are the typical ingredients needed to make a modern-day fashion show: a pitch-black tent, a celebrity crush, pounding music, an often joyless parade of clothes on robotic, almost catatonic models, finished off with applause.
Thankfully, things are a tad more complicated—and a heck of a lot more fun—at John Galliano. And after a few ho-hum seasons (at least by his haute standards), the acclaimed British designer came roaring back with bursts of creativity and fashion fireworks that brought juicy color, high glamour, maximum modeling—and even a few French hens—to the Paris runway.
Not only were his rtw collections for Dior and his own label among the high points of a strong Paris season, they came on the heels of a soaring Madame Butterfly–inspired couture collection for Dior, a pulse-pounding warrior-themed men’s wear show and gosh-knows-how-many pre-collections, not to mention his new second line, Galliano—all in the space of five weeks. Was fashion’s favorite madcap showman particularly inspired this season?
“Yeah, I was really depressed and down this time,” Galliano says, bursting into laughter at the question. “I’m working with really creative people. We were all quite turbo-charged.”
Two events conspired to rev up the designer’s acclaimed imagination to full-throttle: a “wonderful” three-week inspirational trip through Japan and the 60th anniversary of Dior this year, which the house plans to mark with a large-scale event during the July couture.
“Let’s call it a warm-up,” the designer says with characteristic understatement of his fall Dior collection that paid homage to the house’s famous slim-waisted, fan-skirted New Look, while also channeling couture’s lush color and Japanese finery.
Passing through Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo last November, Galliano visited traditional teahouses and museums, and soaked up the expressive and colorful street style, rich in cyber and ninja references. “It really made me want to work with color again to try and express that emotion I felt when I first arrived there,” he says, dressed in a loose army suit topped with an askew beret. “The trip really awoke my senses.” The designer’s experience there even prompted him to change his florist and chef.
Emotion, an ever-rarer commodity on fashion runways, is something Galliano’s fashion spectacles often evoke. He achieved that this season partly by snapping the models out of their trancelike march, making them pause and pose, encouraging them to express themselves on the catwalk. Some of the younger members of Galliano’s team had never seen such a thing: “A girl who actually knows where the pocket was in the coat, you know what I mean?” he relates. “And just the whole enjoyment of it. So you may think of it as old-school modeling, but it seemed very light and contemporary to do that.”
Along the way, he diffused the celebrity hoopla by reminding his audience of the transporting power of fashion itself. “The clothes were really the stars,” Galliano says. “I gave them the scripts and off they went!”
This article is an excerpt from WWD Magazine, a special publication of WWD available to subscribers.