All Images from John Galliano A/W 1994.
As far as fashion shows that double as cultural milestones go, John Galliano has had his fair share – but perhaps the most notable is the spirited, salon-style offering that took place twice on March 5th, 1994 at São Schlumberger’s Hôtel Particulier. Today, it’s fashion folklore: the moment that an impoverished, poetic David triumphed against the seemingly impenetrable Goliath that was Paris’s megawatt fashion industry. In reality, it was a last-minute culmination of like-minded creatives that established Galliano as perhaps the most seductive, skilled and subversive storyteller of an era, something that would eventually take him to dangerously high heights. Often described as ‘back from the brink’, this show was less of a comeback (Galliano has had several, let’s not forget) and more of a statement of future promise: this is what we can do. Just as Carmel Snow christened Dior’ wasp-waisted, full-skirted vision of post-war femininity as the ‘new look’, André Leon Talley coined the term ‘fashion moment’ on March 5th, and the rest is history.
The previous season, Galliano had electrified Paris with a collection that evoked Tolstoy in its heart-racing theatricality and narrative – but, as ever, his pet historicism was laced with a subversive sense of wit and sexuality. Despite the critical acclaim, however, Galliano and his team were without a studio or a penny to produce another collection, and had resigned themselves to the fact that wouldn’t be able to... cue Anna Wintour. Galliano’s most potent patroness stepped in and did what powerful women so often do to get the ball rolling: she organised a lunch. Over Portuguese sardines, André Leon Talley (Wintour’s man on the ground) and Galliano asked São Schlumberger if she’d be prepared to lend her empty 17th century Rue Ferou mansion, which was supposedly built for D’Artganan, one of the Three Musketeers, and later inhabited by Mademoiselle de Luzy, a demimondaine actress and mistress of Talleyrand. In the 70s, Schlumberger threw legendary parties in the hidden disco basement, complete with leather booths and lava lamps, which remained deserted there decades later. “Why not?” she responded, “just give me some time to have my eyes touched up a little bit.” Wintour and Leon Talley also secured $50,000 from Pain Webber’s John Bult and Mark Rice, armed with Steven Meisel’s photographs of the designer’s bias-cut dresses over lunch at the Bristol Hotel.
Away from a plain white runway, Galliano seized the opportunity to create a spectacular mise-en-scène of faded grandeur and aching romanticism. He sourced hundreds of rusty old keys from the flea markets at Clignancourt, each one of which was turned into an invitation with a tea-stained and flame-frayed handwritten note. The set was equally spectacular. “We opened the windows, brought in tons of dead leaves to scatter around, filled fallen chandeliers with with rose petals, created unmade beds and carefully placed upturned chairs at various points,” Galliano recalled in Colin McDowell's Galliano. “We filled the house with dry ice so that the whole place had a desolate, poetic look, like a Sarah Moon photograph. We lit the house from the outside to give it an early morning dew feel. The girls worked the whole house from the top floor down. It was like an old salon presentation. Gorgeous creatures with heavenly, heady make-up wandering through this deserted house, bending down and looking for abandoned love letters in the dust … it was magic.”