Sunday, February 13, 2011

Homage: Christian Dior and John Galliano

I posted a link to the latest Christian Dior couture collection on Facebook, and in the course of conversation, my friend Katy mentioned that she'd be interested in a write up about how Galliano references Dior history in his modern day collections.  She'd gotten excited about the 40s and 50s references in the collection and I crushed her dreams a little by mentioning that it was probably more a product of Galliano's references to the New Look than a trend for the coming season.  However, the way Galliano references the house's history is an interesting wormhole to the way designers working in design houses that do not bear their names function and produce a cohesive look that fits the brand's history and future.  I personally think that Galliano is exceptionally good at this.

The following is an amateur analysis of connective threads between Dior's most iconic collection and Galliano's current work.  It's not intended to be complete nor authoritative, but I think it's an interesting illustration.  All modern images are pulled from, and the older images of the 1947 Corelle collection are from this wonderful blog post entitled "Dior's ring of petals: 'Flower women'" on A White Carousel, which talks about the game-changing Corelle collection.  There are several other lovely photos on that post, and the whole blog is well worth a read.

Wasp Waists and Full Skirts
The Corelle line was Christian Dior's first, and it came out in 1947.  It was immediately hailed as a revolution in fashion, not only for the styling but also because of the use of fabric.  Fabric had been at a premium during the war and fashion had not yet returned to extravagant use.  When you think of the 40s and 50s, you probably think of something like this:
I'd like to live in this ad.
These are both from Dior's Corelle collection, and they defined the era. At the time, of course, it was distinctively Dior and the house used the silhouette as a focal point in its advertising, as you can see in this vibrant ad. When a house defines itself both incidentally and by choice with a certain look, those who design under its label have to decide whether to continue the look, evolve it, or break away from it completely.  If you want to make a clean break, you'd better be sure you have something that will be embraced just as enthusiastically by the fashion world and be just as visually definitive.  Since Dior developed this look with a desire to emphasize a certain understanding of femininity, it's easy to understand why he would choose to evolve the look rather than scrap it and start anew.  He continued working with variations on this theme for years.

When a new designer comes to the helm of a house, the house gets another chance to consider the direction of their design.  A new designer can reinvigorate a house, but generally, unless it is somehow imperiled, they'll want to retain some reference to the genesis of the house, presuming of course that it has a recognized image and style (not all houses have what you'd call a trademark or signature style).  It can also be hard to update a house's style if that style was established in and is definitive of a certain era.  I think Galliano's use of the wasp waisted silhouette with a full skirt manages to do this successfully, though of course it's hard to say whether the update works for everyday wear - try sitting down in your cubicle in one of these babies!
Body Modification and Re-Shaping
Dior's philosophy on the female form also manifested itself in adaptations to it.  I'll leave the feminist analysis out of this for the time being, though there's plenty to discuss there (and not with Dior, but with the predominance of male fashion designers directing the way the female form "should" can probably see what a worm hole that topic is), but I think that Dior's modification is particularly interesting for the way it  worked.  In the pictures above, you can see that Dior's modification is not necessarily about traditional methods of emphasizing "classic female curves" or a standard concept of a woman's silhouette, but rather playing with those classically feminine areas in a way that prompts the viewer to consider them in a new way.
Dior also made use of the a-line silhouette in his later design life, which also changes the way a woman's body is framed.  You can see both of these approaches in Galliano's designs; the silhouettes change the woman's body, but demand consideration of the more traditional form.

Details, Details, Details.
Galliano also uses little nods to details of past collections in his current ones, from construction to fabrics to references.  I've included a couple notables below.
Tinkering with tailoring details; here manifest in a backwards facing neckline.
Consistent shape of ball and formal gowns; a continuation of the wasp waist with a classic full skirt.
Reference to a famous fishscale print (right); Galliano has made numerous adaptations of this print.
References to Dior's lingerie history; Galliano created an entire couture collection that was based on lingerie (as seen above), an innovative way to incorporate the brand's history.
And of course, there are the flowers.  Dior loved his garden, named his first collection after a circlet of blossoms, referred to his models as flowers, and spoke endlessly of floral influences on his work.  One of my favorite recent couture shows at Galliano's hand was an ebullient display of flowers, with some quirky nods and updates, like the Dr. Seuss hair and the cellophane-looking headpieces reminiscent of a florist's wrappings.  I'll close the post out with some of my favorite images from that show.  Enjoy!


  1. There was no crushing of dreams. If I owned that skirt I WOULD wear it in my office. And find a way to sit and keep the pleats.

  2. Good! Yeah, the sitting without pleat-wrecking would be the challenge.

    I had to downsize some of the photos - if you click through, you can see them full size!

  3. fabulous post! very well put together.