Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Beauty and the beast

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.

9 comments:

kairu said...

I was in high school when I became interested in fashion, in no little part due to Galliano's early collections for Givenchy and then Dior, those ravishingly romantic bias-cut gowns that trailed like mist. I remember the American Indian-inspired beadings and the Chinese-influenced embroideries, that acid-green shawl-inspired gown worn by Nicole Kidman at the Oscars one year. They must go back a long way; she wore Dior again this year, when no one else did.

Fashion is a terrible sort of beast, balanced as it is on that tightrope between creating art and making money. There is no excuse to say what Galliano did, none at all. If he were not such a large cog within the giant machine of LVMH it would be just another prick getting drunk in a bar. The fashion world (like the Hollywood world) - entangled between art and business as it is - is responsible for the monsters it creates, too much money thrust upon people with no anchor to prevent them from spinning out into space.

I'm rambling now, for which I apologize, but when I think of Galliano I also think of Alexander McQueen, and your incredibly moving elegy last year after his death. I remember that early article in American Vogue that described them as the enfants terribles of the Paris Couture. Their shows became increasingly shocking as the years passed, even as they continued to produce airy dreams of gowns that slipped across your gaze like moonlight.

normalityandme said...

The rise and fall of John Galliano is something that does not sit right for most people I think. As with anything in life the fall is greater when the rise was such too. But for me what is most sinister about it is that he was/is so prolific in his industry and nobody, until now, has brought to light his awful views.
The case of Ashley Cole and his recent escape from his own misdemeanor is resonating in my mind too.

Justine Picardie said...

Kairu -- you've said it all so well, as always.
NandM: thanks for the realistic perspective.

Karen, Surrey said...

I think they these masters of fashion are often tortured souls. That's what sets them apart. Think of McQueen, or even Van Gough. At least Galliano has only been sacked and maybe this will save him from some worse fate. A chance to reflect, get help or change!

Rose said...

I can't really articulate how I feel about what has happened with Galliano. I have almost no ability to cut or make clothes but I have loved his work since I was a little girl- his dresses were the first I ever cut out of magazines, his work was the reason I bought the magazines. I held him up on a pedestal and now of course I can't- but can I stop loving that chartreuse dress Nicole Kidman wore, the brocade coat Cate Blanchett had, the black backless dress Cate wore to her first Oscars, the Madonna outfits that were too beautiful to be real, no I can't.

Justine Picardie said...

Rose, those clothes don't stop being beautiful...

Maggie said...

I was delighted to find that the writer of one of my favourite books has a blog... I always thought professional writers wouldn't have time to do this kind of writing.
I am not into fashion at all really, have always made my own, followed my own style, and the older I get, the less interested I become really. Clothes are simply something to stop me getting cold, to hide all the imperfections, the scarring from life-saving surgery, the lumps and bumps.
However, 'My Mother's Wedding Dress' is a well-read book, and much loved book, evoking memories as it does of my own mother, to whom I paid tribute on my own blog (www.mrsrunofthemills.blogspot.com)
yesterday.
So thank you for that book.

Justine Picardie said...

What a wonderful tribute to your mother -- I've just read it on your blog. Thank you...

Jojo P. said...

I've always admired adaptions and inspired by stories.


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