Keep thinking about the rise and fall of John Galliano, and I remembered the Dior spring 2005 couture show. I wrote about it in 'My Mother's Wedding Dress', but the story goes something like this:
In 1932, Colette wrote an intriguing portrait of Gabrielle Chanel (published in ‘Prisons et Paradis’), that suggests something of the conflicting impulses at work in fashion:
“Mademoiselle Chanel is engaged in sculpting an angel 6 feet tall. A golden-blond angel, impersonal, seraphically beautiful, providing one disregards the rudimentary carving, the paucity of flesh, and the cheerlessness – one of those angels who brought the devil to earth.
“The angel – still incomplete – totters occasionally under the two creative, severe, kneading arms that press against it. Chanel works with ten fingers, nails, the edge of the hand, the palms, with pins and scissors right on the garment, which is a white vapour with long pleats, splashed with crushed crystal. Sometimes she falls to her knees before her work and grasps it, not to worship but to punish it again, to tighten over the angel’s long legs – to constrain – some expansion of tulle...”
It’s a description that might still be applied to the making of the white wedding dresses which have traditionally provided a finale to the Paris couture shows; splendid bridal confections that provide substantial orders for some of the most prestigious fashion houses, yet which are also expected to reveal a new or unexpected design twist. For example, the closing sequence of John Galliano’s couture show for Dior in January 2005, featured a series of ethereal white or ivory gowns – a reminder, perhaps, of the concurrent publicity coup which had seen Donald Trump’s newest wife in Dior bridal couture on the front cover of American Vogue – but on the catwalk, the designer had added what looked like pregnant or malignant swellings beneath his floor-length, empire-line creations. At the end, Galliano appeared to take the final bow, looking devilish in piratical black.
At the time, other fashion commentators praised the show as being a perfect embodiment of the poetry of couture. But I felt it was less straightforward than that, as if the smeared rouge on the models' faces was a suggestion of abuse, of the loss of innocence. It's interesting how often contemporary fashion reporting ignores that twist between beauty and horror on the catwalk: perhaps because when you’re close to those dresses, you can see only the rarified art and exquisite work that has gone into their making; it is only from a distance that they look so much more sinister.