“Tribal Chic,” proclaimed the program notes for John Galliano’s spring show for Christian Dior. Once upon a time, that might have meant an over-the-top costume affair, the kind to delight Galliano’s countless devotees who reveled in such glorious mayhem and infuriate those who didn’t. But not this season. Instead, Galliano took a decidedly subdued approach to the so-up-his-alley motif. “It’s a sideward glance, an abstraction of Africa,” he said before his show. “It’s never, never literal.”


Certainly not. In fact, the tribe whose chic he seemed most interested in is that of the tony types used to forking over ample wampum for fabulous flash-and-fashion, but who these days may be feeling cautious, and who could blame them? Now they need a reason to buy, which means goodbye to fall’s tailored Mrs. Robinson retro; they’ve got plenty. These gals want a new spin on fun, beautiful look-at-me clothes, without spinning out of control. Galliano’s solution: dresses, an explosion of them, with lean, waist-cinching bodices and short, flippy skirts. He showed them mostly in happy brights or “fingerpainted” animal spots, with lots of workable transparency. And they looked appealing, whether reasonably unfettered, as in strapless and halter prints, or embroidered, jeweled and studded in articulated patterns that apparently accounted for those tribal glances. (Inventive shoes with full-figured goddess heels did so more directly.) Ditto the gowns, which Galliano kept in the same feeling, only long.


Yet for all the prettiness, the collection had issues. Most quizzically, it formed an unlikely intersection between the safe and the impractical, with some looks wafting toward contemporary. Lucky, then, that Galliano set the record straight with a few ingeniously constructed jackets in leather and python.

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