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Designer Spotlight: James Galanos

Posted by Cherie
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James Galanos pinning fabric onto dress form dummy, California 1954. Photo by Allan Grant.

 

 

Editor's note: One of my goals for 2016 was to continue to help spread and share our love and knowledge of why this little world of vintage loveliness that I have created amongst these web pages even exists. Beyond posting pretty pictures and editorials and sharing stories of days gone by, everything I do with my team really springs from my great love of the vintage that I source and find all around the world. It is at heart, all about vintage, and yet sometimes I feel that with all the other aspects that go into running this blog and the site that I can get caught up in so many things that take away from the simple act of my love of the great designers and their creations. To offset that, I have decided to highlight one of the designers whose work I love each week. This is not intended as a comprehensive biography but rather bits and pieces of what I have learned through my years in this business, along with some examples of the work and pieces I have in my shop. It is my little weekly love tribute to someone from the past and I hope you enjoy this new addition to our blog. xx Cherie 

 

There is just something special about a Galanos. He had a certain way with fabric. A certain touch and eye for line that few of his American contemporaries had. He was an American designer that practiced traditional French haute couture for four decades. In an issue of Architectural Digest from 1997, Interior designer Philippe B. Oates, perhaps summed it up best; “I would say that James loves quality,” adds Oates. “Detailed quality in everything. Nothing is left unfinished.”

If you want to dress a proper American woman in the most exquisite way possible, you dress her in Galanos. American designer James Galanos was the United States’ answer to European snobbery towards their neighbours across the pond. Galanos made couture-level gowns with a level of craftsmanship that left France’s most esteemed couturiers with their mouths agape. The immaculate construction of Galanos’ gowns oozed luxury, privilege, and high society (with price points to match) but he never led his clients astray—they were always beyond satisfied.

Galanos opened his atelier in 1951 in Los Angeles, an almost incredulous decision for a budding couturier, but one which reflects James’ unwavering insistence on doing things his own way (he famously never showed during the prescribed fashion weeks).

From a Los Angeles Times story written just after his retirement in 1998, his career trajectory and celebrity influence is written up as so:

"Galanos Originals sold its first line to Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, and soon thereafter to Neiman Marcus and other specialty retailers who'd heard about a young designer in Los Angeles applying techniques of French haute couture to ready-to-wear. Galanos' trunk shows were renowned for the angst they caused models, who would diet to squeeze into his samples, cut for 32-inch hips.

So who are the Galanos women, with their surfeit of cash and dearth of body fat? Nancy Reagan, of course, who began buying Galanos when she was an MGM starlet, size 4. She wore Galanos at all four of her husband's inaugurations, two in Sacramento, two in Washington.

"All the socialites of Beverly Hills," he says, flocked his way after Saks began to carry his line. As did the socialites of Dallas, Houston, New York, you name it. As did the stars: Dietrich favored his chiffon gowns, and Judy Garland wore his black leotard and chiffon skirt on her 1956 TV special. He clothed Loretta Young, Rosalind Russell and Dorothy Lamour. Diana Ross wore purple-beaded Galanos to the Oscars in 1985. Edie Adams, a customer since 1953, owns hundreds of Galanos pieces ("She was, in those days, a tiny, tiny thing, and a big spender."). Dixie Carter will perform her New York nightclub act in several new Galanos gowns, which were awaiting alterations recently in an upstairs fitting room."

His work was awarded and recognized. He won his first Coty American Fashion Critics Award in 1954, followed by awards from Neiman Marcus, Filene’s, the Fashion Group, the Sunday Times, and the Council of Fashion Designers in America.  His work resides in the permanent collections of every major museum on the planet. He has been the subject of numerous retrospective exhibitions; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (in 1975), The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York (in 1976), The Smithsonian Institution, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Ohio State University, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (in 1996). And in 2001 Galanos was inducted into Seventh Avenue’s Fashion Walk of Fame.

Despite his fame and recognition, Galanos never wavered from his couture roots and his ideal of American glamour even though he did change with the times and fashions. He kept his atelier to a size that allowed him to maintain total control. Which is why you don't see endless examples and lower end diffusion lines from him. Yet he managed to produce a great range of design work within that high end bubble he created for himself. In another summary of his work it sums it ups like so; "Galano’s evening dresses emphasized finesse and luxury. During his career he explored many different silhouettes, including full bell-shaped skirts and dropped-waist; “ballerina” dresses in the 1950s; miniskirts and caftans in the 1960s and 1970s, and off-the-shoulder sheaths in the 1980s and 1990s.  His trademark silhouette, however, is a columnar sheath shape, featuring wide shoulders and a long, slim skirt.This simple, understated form offers the perfect foundation for another of Galano’s trademarks, exquisite embroidery."

From my own experience, as a dealer, I would hazard to say that the range that Galanos showed was extremely broad in one sense - and yet I can spot a Galanos across the room. They are glamorous, they are sexy and they drape and fit on the body to give you a body you did not even know you have. They can be subtle, they can be insanely over the top, they can be sculptural and sometimes they are so sexual they are almost scandalous - but never do that actually cross that line. When his gowns were new they could cost between $2000 and $10,000 and they still can.

He was relentless in his passion for design and bragged that every linear every dress was designed by him - there were no junior designers in the background doing sketches or doing the styling. It is all completely and utterly him. Which is the reason you just know a piece is a Galanos despite how different it may be from the last you saw.

He also refused to sell his name out and go the route of licensing and mass market. "What I wanted to do," he says, "is make the most beautiful and most expensive clothes, and that automatically puts you into an elite, and that's where I belong."

Despite being known for being rather guarded and at times even prickly, women flocked to him and tried to win his favour. He cared for none of that side of the business and when he retired in 1998 the house closed with him. Which perhaps explains why it's not a name that is instantly on everyone's lips. But it really should be. His dresses are f&*cking amazing. There is really no other way to say it. And if I do say so myself I am pretty damn good at finding some of the best vintage examples of his pieces out there. I think it's because I truly love his work that the universe conspires to send them my way. The gowns I have in my shop are good. Like really good. It always astounds me that women are not beating down the doors of my shop to get their hands on a Galanos piece - as James said himself...

"A single James creation is worth the whole output of a 7th Avenue year's work"

I never said Galanos was humble...

A single James creation is worth the whole output of a 7th Avenue year's work.
Read more at: http://www.azquotes.com/quote/640908
A single James creation is worth the whole output of a 7th Avenue year's work.
Read more at: http://www.azquotes.com/quote/64090

 

 

Click here to shop our selection of James Galanos >

 

 

Buyers examine a gown from James Galanos, 1964.

 

 

James Galanos in Town & Country, 1969.  Click here to read the original blog post that this image is from >

 

 

Model wears a 1970s Couture Galanos Gown from Shrimpton Couture - available now. Photo: Nikki Ormerod, Styling: Nadia Pizzimenti, Hair & Makeup: Ashley Readings, Model: Constance from Plutino Models. 

 

 

Model wears a 1970s Couture Galanos Gown from Shrimpton Couture - available now. Photo: Nikki Ormerod, Styling: Nadia Pizzimenti, Hair & Makeup: Ashley Readings, Model: Constance from Plutino Models.

 

 

 

Jean Patchett in a Galanos gown, 1959. Photo by Nina Leen.

 

 

Galanos with Dovima for California Style Magazine by Slim Aarons, 1960.

 

 

Model wears a 1970s Couture Galanos Gown from Shrimpton Couture - available now. Photo: Nikki Ormerod, Styling: Nadia Pizzimenti, Hair & Makeup: Ashley Readings, Model: Constance from Plutino Models.

 

 

Model wears a 1970s Couture Galanos Gown from Shrimpton Couture - available now. Photo: Nikki Ormerod, Styling: Nadia Pizzimenti, Hair & Makeup: Ashley Readings, Model: Constance from Plutino Models.

 

 

Model wears a 1970s Couture Galanos Gown from Shrimpton Couture - available now. Photo: Nikki Ormerod, Styling: Nadia Pizzimenti, Hair & Makeup: Ashley Readings, Model: Constance from Plutino Models.

 

 

James Galanos Chiffon Fashion, Hollywood, California, 1961. Photo by Gordon Parks.

 

 

James Galanos by Richard Avedon, August 10, 1975.

 

 

Lauren Hutton with firedbird-blaze dress by Galanos, Round-the-Clock tights, David Evins shoes, hair by Suga, Vogue 1971. Photo by Bert Stern.

 

 

Catherine Keener in a 1960s Couture Galanos Dress from Shrimpton Couture at TIFF 2014. Click here to see read the original blog post that this image is from >

 

 

James Galanos gown worn by Gloria Vanderbilt, Hollywood, California, 1961. Photo by Gordon Parks.

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