Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fashion In Flashback : Understanding John Galliano !!

John Galliano's signature collection titled "Afghanistan Repudiates Western Ideals" showcased as part of London Fashion Week's Spring/Summer 1985 collections was important not only for establishing Galliano as a fashion designer of immense talent but also for exhibiting his singularly conspicuous inspiration, traces of which can be found even in his most recent collections.Though Galliano professes the collection to be triggered by a cartoon from the 1930s showing an Afghan in native garb on the verge of stomping a classic British bowler and by a comment on an Afghan king named Amanullah, who, inspired by a visit to Savile Row, went back home and tried to force Western clothing on Afghanistan, still he uses elements from his previous collection, Les Incroyables, as a language for expressing the confusion that would have resulted from Amanullah's attempt, resulting in a fusion of the two dressing styles, the effect similar to the colonial influence of Britain felt in countries like India, where the Christian converts though religiously attend church every Sunday, still cling on their orthodox native beliefs and customs .

John Galliano essayed this "confusion" resultant from the clashing of two cultures, as different as chalk and cheese, by combining Middle Eastern-style robes, dyed saffron and a shade he named "dried blood", with traditional British pinstripe cloth to create half tailored, half draped designs, all in one garment.If the collection were viewed without any background, it might come across as an eclectic mix of clothes cut in bizarre shapes, but when viewed the right way, it brings out Galliano's ingenious ability to transform historical references to modern European sensibilities.

While it is common knowledge that Les Incroyables was John Galliano's graduation collection(shown in July 1984), what is less known is the continued influence that the Incroyables had on all his subsequent collections and more so on his next one namely "Afghanistan Repudiates Western Ideals".An understanding of this collection cannot be made without dissecting the Incroyables, who they were, what they stood for and why they were important to fashion.

The French revolution and subsequent Reign of Terror that followed i.e a period from 1789 to 1799, led to renunciation of all forms of elaborate and luxurious dressing, for fear of being executed as a sympathiser of aristocracy.The men of the period clothed themselves in long jackets and leather boots(the style borrowed from Britain) and the women in simple robes like long flowing tunics and gowns similar to one worn by ancient Greeks.

"Les Incroyables(the Incredibles) et les Merveilleuses(the Marvelous Women)" were a collective group of young people known for their outlandish ways of dressing, who rose to prominence during the period of the French Revolution after the Reign of Terror , their exaggerated and luxurious styles in response to the sober sadness that the terror had spread.They were also called "muscadins" due to the enormous quantities of musk perfume that they wore.It wasn't certain whether in dressing the way they did, they mocked the royalty for their opulence or the bourgeois for their simplicity!! This is the exact disparity that John Galliano had brought out in his "Afghanistan Repudiates Western Ideals", playfully dressing up his modern Incroyables in what he thought the Afghans(or the East) would wear to mock the West!!

The Incroyables dressed themselves in a cartoon version of the English country suit comprising of skin tight pants, extremely short vests topped with a coat made so long its wide flared tails reached the ankles. The coat sleeves were long enough to completely cover the hands and the lapels too were very large. The front of the coat was cut to look uneven when buttoned and the back was bunched in folds. The coat's collar stood up high at the back behind the head, and a huge cravat, or neck covering, was wrapped so high around the neck that it covered the chin and mouth. The Incroyables powdered their hair, which was either dressed in multiple braids or cut raggedly(like the guillotined victims), hanging long and shaggy on the sides of their heads, in a style called "dog's ears" and cropped short at the back.

John Galliano's interpretation of the Incroyables retained all the technicalities of their dress like short vest, huge coats with long sleeves, big lapels albeit each aspect executed cleverly with a modern twist, in the process making some pieces strongly quasi-androgynous in nature. Another interesting aspect of the collection is that of the pants reaching till the busts, probably emphasising the very short vests(covering just the bust) worn by the Incroyables, and hence the need for the pants to extend till the bust in order to cover the remaining area!!

The Merveilleuses (the female counterparts of the Incroyables) took inspiration from Greece(maybe because of it being the birthplace of democracy) and dressed themselves in several yards of fine fabric almost transparent, which they dampened before wearing so that the fabric clung close to their body and enhanced the "naked" look. Their hair was cropped and adorned with ostrich feathers.

This "sheer fabric-transparent look" had such a profound influence on John Galliano that it was to be repeated in many future collections of his including the latest Fall 2009 Ready-To-Wear collection.His Spring/Summer 1985 collection resurrected the Merveilleuses, making them saunter on the runways of London in white robes made transparent by dampening and dresses with "dog ears" hanging from the sides reminiscent of the Incroyables' "dog ears"(hair hanging from the sides)!!

(Below) On display are some of the clothes from Galliano's Spring/Summer 1985 collection.

John Galliano's fascination with the Incroyables and the Merveilleuses was felt even in his latest Fall 2009 Ready-To-Wear collections for men and women(a look from each collection shown below).

It can be concluded that John Galliano's Spring/Summer 1985 collection used the fashionable and rebellious dandies of the French Revolution namely the Incroyables and the Merveilleuses, to express the East-West divide(conservative versus liberal) by drawing parallels with the chasm that existed between the aristocracy and the bourgeois of 1790s France(opulence versus simplicity).

(Above) A 24 year old, young John Galliano, walks the ramp after his Spring/Summer 1985 fashion show.

Image Source:www.catwalking.com www.imaxtree.com www.liveauctioneers.com www.19thc-artworldwide.org


BB said...

OMG, John was so cute! Love him!

Anonymous said...

This is great. How did you find those images of the show. They're really rare!

Beth Rock said...

I'm working on an extensive Galliano paper and had trouble finding the fallen angels pictures. Thank you so much! Also follow my blog at http://www.luxstreets-bethrock.blogspot.com
I just got started blogging, thanks