John Galliano inside Atelier - working process and inspiration!
Photoes from amazing book “GALLIANO” by Colin McDowell (all these images from the book I photoed for the blog by myself).
Very interesting Interview with Mesh Chhibber about work with John Galliano - inside John world!
My first day at Vogue Paris was quite eventful. It was September 1995 and the whole staff was in a frenzy, working on the impending 75th anniversary issue and as usual, there were shoots to plan, pictures to edit, archives to search through, heated arguments to have, in French, of course. I was milling around trying to find a way to be useful and eventually wandered into editor-in-chief Joan Juliet Buck’s office. She spotted me standing in her office as editors and art department staff lined up to have her sign off and approve layouts and texts and yelled, “Debra, come here!” So, as I timidly got closer to her desk, she handed me a piece of paper and said, “here is the most important phone number you need for your new life in Paris.” I looked at the note and next to a hand written number it said Mesh. Another staffer quickly explained that he was the gatekeeper to all things John Galliano.
Many career moves, cities, companies and lives later, Mesh Chhibber and I continue what has become an evolving intellectual discourse ranging in topics from science fiction to politics, always comparing notes on our parallel experiences in and out of the business we once called fashion. Though he is the ultimate behind the scenes kind of guy, we sat for several hours, tape recorder rolling, at our new favorite cafe in London, to reflect on how we both wound up there and now, how do we take our values and experiences and focus on the future. And still discuss science fiction, of course.
DS: So let’s just jump right into it. Here we are, the whole industry is going through a massive period of adaptation and I feel like there is so much interest now in that time period, Paris in the ‘90s, though none of it exists anymore. There are new rules, new faces, reinvented faces, and most importantly, completely new business models.
MC: Don’t you feel that our industry has completely lost a large set of values that made it important once? People seem to sacrifice ideas and quality for volume and profit. I think what we experienced in the ‘90s was the tail end of a particular type of industry. It was the ending of something and the beginning of something else, spanning from sometime in the ‘70s all the way through to the end of the ‘90s.
In the ‘80s, profit was measured, success was measured, in the tens of millions, by the early ‘90s success is beginning to be measured in the hundreds of millions. By the end of the ‘90s in the fashion industry, success is being measured in the billions. That changes everything, because then you get things like private equity firms deciding between buying a petrochemical company or a fashion house. That was not a decision that was being made in the ‘80s. So you suddenly have people from private equity companies and people who would never have worked in the industry, who would never have invested in the industry, purely to build something up over three to five years and flip it, who really don’t care about integrity or creativity.
Today there is a very successful business model which is the following: design a good product, but reduce the quality of it, whilst at the same time increasing the price, so that you’re increasing your profit margin. Then come up with very slick advertising and marketing. In this way, the bottom line is healthier but the consumer is being short changed.
DS: Yes, that is the perfect summing up of today’s predicament, but let’s go back to how we wound up here. I remember a few months after working with you in Paris you invited me to lunch without the other Vogue editors and I didn’t know exactly why. Then, out of nowhere you say, “you and I aren’t supposed to be here.” I didn’t know at first what you meant, but yeah, I guess we both just fell into certain circumstances, I know I never dreamed of being in fashion, it wasn’t part of my plan. It was an influence for sure, but I think I wanted to be an architect there for a while. How about you?
MC: I had gone to prep, public school and university with Amanda Harlech’s brother, Thomas, and when I graduated from Manchester University I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Amanda suggested I go off to John Galliano in Paris. So I went over there for a six month internship. I arrived in the summer of 1993, and I wound up staying with John until the end of 2000.
DS: And I was sent to Italian Vogue in Milan also ‘just for a six month internship’ in 1991. I still work with Conde Nast so, yes, we certainly have that in common. There was just so much happening and the staff was so small, I was doing market research for shoots, writing feature stories, dreaming up ideas in the art department with Luca Stoppini and working with Anna Piaggi on her D.P. pages. It was an incredible experience and I was only 22 years old. What was happening at Galliano in those early founding years?
MC: It was such a small company, people had to do everything, so you had to work in the studio, you had to work in sales, you had to work in press, everyone did everything. It was literally five people and a dog. It was me, John, Amanda, Bill Gaytten, Steven Robinson (John’s right hand) and a host of interns. He had an amazing atelier, they were incredibly skilled. There was a guy named Shin-Ji who was an amazing pattern cutter and tailor, tailoring in that old world couture way, so he would actually pin the pattern to the model. Bill Gaytten was more the “flou” kind of pattern cutter, and that was really the team. A few months later, Vanessa Bellanger arrived in the studio as well as Jennifer Osterhoudt who focused on accessories.
DS: So what was peculiar about the process? There was definitely some added kind of magic that made those shows so emotional, so magical, that was very, very Galliano.
MC: John and Steven designed, and Amanda would come in and work with them throughout the year on the concepts. But there were other important creative ingredients and for John that was Jeremy Healy, because music was an integral part. It wasn’t an afterthought, it was as important as the shoes or the hats. He worked with Jeremy Healy on the music in the same way that he worked with Stephen Jones on the hats or Manolo Blahnik on the shoes.
He would actually tell him his ideas for the show for the collection, show him sketches, and Jeremy would create the soundtrack, which would not just be the latest songs one right after the other like they do today. He would take snippets of dialogue, he would look at films, listen to dialogue, music, old, new, whatever. It really was an integral part of the collection. John often formed his ideas around a heroine he had in mind for the collection, someone who would inspire him, some he made up. Maybe it was a fictional princess, Lucretia in Russia, escaping the revolution through a forest and on the soundtrack you had howling wolves and girls running and slipping down the catwalk in big torn and stained crinolines.
DS: I remember that show and even now when I hear howling wolves I still think of that show. It was the last one he did at the Cour Carreé. I was still at Italian Vogue and went with Anna Piaggi. That was her kind of show because it was a whole narrative. It was in another league, an experience, total theater.
MC: When did you get to French Vogue?
DS: The first John show I saw as a member of the French Vogue team was the one in the theater. I remember we all arrived and were led through so many dark curtained rooms, up and down staircases and couldn’t see anything, but could hear voices, so we knew that it was a packed house though only five or six of us were seated in this space. After waiting forever, remember how late all the shows were then? The lights started to brighten, the music began and the curtain in front of us started to go up. It was then we realized with great embarrassment that we were up on stage and everyone else was in the theater audience looking up at us!! For the entire show!
MC: Ah yes! The Nijinski, Diaghilev, Ballets Russes collection! And it was in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées where the Ballets Russes once performed.
DS: The girls pirouetted so close to us, I remember the hair and makeup was like out of a dream it was so beautiful.
MC: That was Stéphane Marais and Odile Gilbert. And a great example of how John really broke the runway. The first time was in autumn winter ‘94-’95, when John didn’t have any backing. It was like a month before the show, and São Schlumberger lent him her mansion that she wasn’t living in anymore, and in the course of a month he put together 17 looks, 15 of them were black, most of the fabric was off the shelf, and he put together the most incredible collection and he completely took the show off of the runway. He created that kind of mise-en-scene approach with different vignettes and different rooms.
After that show an investor came in and I just wound up working on the press. When I was there as an intern I was doing everything including cutting lace and researching in the library, and then even after things became more codified we were still helping in every way.
DS: Back then there was a personal face, that press person, who was like a gatekeeper I always said. Like how Patrick Scallon was with Martin Margiela, or Karla Otto was with Jil Sander. It was all very personal.
MC: Now its handled by big agencies, the industry all together is more corporate. I think what we experienced was the tail end of, I suppose, that whole system. The highest level of modern couture and ready to wear, beginning in the seventies in Paris…you had Karl Lagerfeld, you had Yves Saint Laurent, you had Kenzo, and then in the ‘80s you had Claude Montana and Thierry Mugler. They all personified that big extravagant fashion which I think Alexander Mcqueen and John Galliano continued into the ‘90s.
Then suddenly, these business don’t want two collections a year, they want three collections. Then a few other collections and suddenly designers are producing twelve collections a year and in some cases even more.
Then John goes to Givenchy, which was the first time an Englishman ran a couture house since Frederick Worth, who it just so happens founded haute couture in Paris in 1871. So that was amazing, suddenly, this independent, eccentric Englishman is sitting at a couture house and is now working with an amazing and storied atelier at Givenchy.
DS: It was made such a big deal that an Englishman was going to run a couture house. Also, at that time, between the strength of the Milanese all of the sudden, with Miuccia Prada getting into ready to wear and Tom Ford at Gucci and Gianni Versace at the height of his creativity, plus the English taking over couture, the rise of the Belgians, the genius of the Japanese…the French were having a big identity crisis. We definitely felt it at French Vogue, I mean, we had an American editor-in-chief of all things.
MC: Also I think at that point there was a lot of deconstruction in fashion, that whole school of thought that Margiela was at the forefront of, literally tearing couture apart and turning it inside out, and all of the sudden John starts doing couture, a young designer in that spring summer ‘95 collection, using lots of couture shapes when everyone else was ripping it to shreds. Suddenly, this iconoclast seemed to be upholding the conservative values of couture, which was probably what lead to his being appointed to Givenchy.
DS: How did your job change now that John had added Haute Couture to the schedule?
MC: I always just worked with John on all of his projects so in that way I got to spend time at Givenchy and Dior, where Galliano took the reigns as McQueen took over at Givenchy. I think I left before everything changed, though I could feel that it had begun. It wasn’t going to be about small companies, small designers and their teams. They were all going to become part of a much larger group and when you start off in such an intimate way, it’s kind of what you cherish. But of course things change. Today, there are only a few people I can think of that work in that way, designers like Rick Owens, who is still all about creation, not about marketing. Marketing may be part of it, but it begins with him designing clothes. How can you be creative when every three months you have to present something new? And you have 300 shops you have to fill with product?
DS: Then you left in 2000 to start something new. Tell us how that compared to working with John?
MC: I went to work with Stella McCartney. She had left Chloé and started up her own label under the Gucci Group. I was one of the first people hired. In French there are two words, you have a “créateur” and a “styliste” and 90% of designers are styliste. I was very lucky to have worked from the beginning with someone like John. Stella had very much a ready-to-wear background, and approached it from a ready-to-wear kind of ethos. John took his couture ideals and basically was executing them in a ready-to-wear context. That was the difference. John really was a créateur. He had his atelier next door to his studio, everything was done on the body, it’s a very different way of working.
DS: That change in the way of working, as an editor at the time, I could really feel it. Slowly the shows started to change. The people at the shows started to change. They kept getting bigger, there were always more editors, more buyers, and overall more and more shows. It felt unsustainable. It was getting harder to focus on what we were there to do. It wasn’t anymore like walking into someone’s dream, someone’s embodiment of their aesthetic. It was more and more like going to an event. But after so many of these events, you start to ask, what? Why are we here again? Like when four or five friends all get married in the same year. The whole thing gets so repetitive.
MC: Today, when anyone writes a review of a show, the first paragraph always describes which celebrities were at the show, and in fact, it might even get more space than describing the collection or critiquing the collection. So there is actually far more emphasis on who is sitting in the front row than in critiquing the show, which kind of tells you where fashion has gone since then.
DS: That is another discussion, whether or not there needs to be so many shows, especially with the ease and immediacy of making and sharing images. What did you see change from your side?
MC: I finally set up my own agency. My business partner was in Paris and I was in London, it was a PR, communications, marketing agency/consultancy. We worked very closely with companies to help them with communication strategy, it was a different thing. You’re not working in-house, you’re not working as intimately, but we did bring a bit of that to our clients which was quite rare. Then as we grew that had to change.
From our end, you are right, everything kept growing. There are so many more journalists. Just as an example, at that time in the ‘90s, there was no Chinese fashion press at all. Another example is that fashion communication is not so American-centric as it once was. Back then, 50% of journalists were American. America now is still probably the single largest market, but its nowhere near 50% of the global market anymore.
The internal workings of design companies have changed so much that of course the shows will never be same. John Galliano’s team was always constant. Stephen Jones made the hats. Jeremy with the music, Manolo doing the shoes, etc..These people all worked together very closely for a very long time and I think that builds a loyalty, a sense of the relationship deepening with each season. That had a huge influence on the possibility of what could be done, what could be executed, and I’m not sure that today people work in the same way.
DS: I still believe that every designer today, even if the show is at Lincoln Center or whatever, their “intent” is still to have that Galliano show. They are all still trying to achieve that, the emotion, the narrative, everything. The problem is they hire the same companies, show at the same venues, use the same references. Maybe they think they can just buy it, but as you point out, it wasn’t just John being creative and cool, it was a total collaboration of many artisans who also knew each other and the way their minds worked.
MC: How can you recreate that kind of emotion or that sense of drama? John would speak with each model before the show as if they were actresses, saying “this is what you are channeling, this is your character”…girls running, purposely stumbling, allowing the crinoline to collapse underneath her, and holding a very delicate lace tea stained camisole to her breast as if she is running through the woods and is getting caught on branches of trees. Would you be able to do that today?
DS: I remember when I interviewed John and Jeremy for the music issue we did at French Vogue. They told me that when Linda Evangelista came for her fittings she would make them play her the exact part in the music where she would be coming out so she could practice and get into character.
MC: The whole thing today is much less intimate and I think that’s because the business demands it. I think there has to be a way of capturing that sense of emotion. There is too much product, we are constantly being marketed to. There certainly are still designers that are doing beautiful things, look at Alber Elbaz at Lanvin, look at Rick Owens, Haider Ackerman, and of course, Azzedine Alaïa. It is still possible to build these businesses that are intimate, and emotional, but sometimes it feels like it has all gotten so big that it’s hard to do, but yes, it still exists today.
Look at Thomas Tait. With small budgets he creates wonderful shows where you know that when he designs the collection he has music in mind, he has hair and makeup in mind, its all part of the same story, the same discourse. It all comes from one vision, one universe and its not about looking at what other people are doing at all. I think in the end, its about playing the game, but on your own terms. And not falling into this formula, this machine.
DS: So, after this lament, I realize we keep coming back to the importance of music. Here at The Little Squares, music is also an ever present element. So much so, that when someone in the office suggested we do a music issue for the zine, my reply was, “every issue is the music issue.” So isn’t that why you wound up at University of Manchester to begin with?
MC: Well basically, it was because it had a wonderful art history department, a club called The Haçienda and Factory Records. I was getting the tail end of that whole Manchester thing. Music, fashion, graphic novels, you know I collect comics because comics are just a very visual way of storytelling, and they are really magical, sort of like fairy tales. You are telling some modern day fairy tales through comics, but again even that has changed. Most comics now are very much just storyboards for blockbuster Hollywood films. But before, the way comics were laid out, the speech bubbles were laid out, was very specific to the story. The panels themselves give you a sense of motion. Its not by accident that they are laid out that way.
DS: So overall what was your biggest influence?
MC: By far, the biggest influence on me was Yohji Yamamoto. The first time I saw a Yohji Yamamoto catalogue, you know, by Marc Ascoli, Nick Knight, and Peter Saville. This was London in ‘80’s. I was probably 15. I was hanging out with a friend and we wandered into the shop. I looked at the catalogue and was like, “this is a revelation!” I couldn’t believe my eyes. All of the sudden, Peter Saville, who was my hero from Factory Records, was working on a fashion label?
I remember being in my room at school as a teenager, listening to New Order’s Technique, that was incredible and the reason why I wanted to go to Manchester, because of Factory Records and The Haçienda, and then getting interested in fashion because of the Yohji catalogue. When I saw Peter Saville’s name in the credits, I became interested in the crossover. Then it all started making sense, there was a bigger picture. It wasn’t just about fashion, it was about making culture and you had people doing interesting stuff visually that wasn’t just about selling garments. It was really cool. Wait, wow, I’ve never really made that connection, but, yeah.
Those Yohji images came completely out of left field. They didn’t reference anything, they didn’t borrow from bourgeois fashion…it wasn’t an image of a pretty girl walking down the street, flashing a brand or a logo. It was a tribe, but it wasn’t about social status. It wasn’t about being aspirational in that bourgeois way. It was something completely different.
Finally, when John did his first campaign for Dior, he hired Peter Saville and then Stella did the same thing for her first campaign.
DS: I’m sure you had nothing to do with it. Your interest in all that kind of storytelling was maybe what lured you into the fashion world, or can we blame it all on Peter Saville? I loved composition, aesthetics and ideas embodied by album cover design, and the fashion industry at the time embodied all of those things. It was like the fact that we were dealing with ‘clothes’ was secondary. Now, those things still excite me but I have to look outside of fashion to find those feelings and obviously, by creating media myself. Thanks to the digital age, we can create much more on our own. But who are we kidding, we still love clothes! What do we do now?
MC: Today, what I think is amazing is that there is a way of reinventing the business model. You don’t just have to think about wholesale, thanks to technology, even if you are a young designer, you have the ability to go straight to the consumer online.
DS: So why don’t they do it?
MC: Because everyone is wedded to the system. They still want to be part of it, even young designers, they still feel they need to be in Colette, or they need to be in Dover Street Market, they need to be in Barney’s. They feel it’s still acknowledgment from the industry to be in those stores. They don’t see the power in the ability to speak directly to the end customer.
DS: That’s why they still all want to have shows and want to be the next Galliano.
MC: Now, online and through social media you can sell and speak directly to customers. You don’t have to have a third party to mediate your message or your product for you. When we started out, the consumer would essentially see a review in a magazine, in newspaper, and maybe one or two photos, hadn’t seen the show, the show was purely for industry and for press and buyers and then those photos were really used for the industry to speak to one another.
Today, of course, the customer sees everything at the same time as the press. So now if you want to know which will be the most successful looks, just check Instagram half an hour after the show and see what everyone has shared. Its always out of lets say 40 looks, about 20% of them appear in social, those are what the editors love and everyone likes the images and then that’s that.
DS: That’s why Suzy Menkes is still relevant, she always saw the show and wrote about it in the moment and chose the key looks to illustrate the commentary in real time. Instagram is perfect for her.
MC: Why isn’t there one influential designer that has the courage, like Helmut Lang did when he single handedly changed the fashion show calendar just because he wanted to show in New York and didn’t want to have to wait until November to do it? He was right and everyone followed and now New York shows first. Why doesn’t someone go against the calendar and say, what I show in September will be what goes into the stores in September?
DS: I ask the same question about editorial. Shooting is so much faster now, why can’t the magazine stories be about what is being shown in real time. They could do it if they wanted to. Will fashion ever be disrupted??
MC: The amount of excitement that would generate! I don’t understand why technology hasn’t been more disruptive in our industry.
DS: I feel like the focus has been in the wrong places. We don’t need wearables and we don’t need clothing recognition technology, point and shoot and buy. At least not yet. First we need to disrupt the whole system!
MC: Online is more than just another channel to use for marketing. It should allow people to reinvent the business model, in the same way it has with film, in the same way it has with music. Fashion has not been disrupted enough! It makes no sense and I think it’s because young designers unfortunately still want to be part of the system, they still need the accolades, when actually they should be speaking directly to the customer.
DS: Can you imagine if every young engineer at Stanford dreamed of getting a job at IBM? That’s what it feels like sometimes. I guess that’s why they picked “emperor’s new clothes” to signify pretending nothing is happening when it really is.
MC: We have to live by our convictions. I believe people buy too much. They should buy less, but buy things that are really well made. When I was at boarding school, kids would be wearing their grandfathers’ suits..how many people today would be able to hand down their suits to their grandchildren? It’s something that no one even considers today.
DS: Someone we know does. Now, let’s get back to talking about the 12th Doctor. No?
Galliano pictured with Vanessa Bellanger in 1996.
JOHN GALLIANO has wasted no time in assembling his dream team at Maison Martin Margiela, reportedly enlisting favoured collaborators from his time at Christian Dior and at his own label.
Dior muse and confidant Vanessa Bellanger, Alexandre Roux from John Galliano, Jean-Yves Mustiere, most recently at Roberto Cavalli, and Galliano’s former studio manager Rafaele Hardy are all said to be Margiela bound, although - in line with the house’s penchant for anonymity - none of the appointments have been confirmed.
The house declined to comment on the names being linked to Galliano’s arrival, saying only that Margiela “still considers itself a collective under the guidance of a creative director”. A spokesperson told WWD that the design team under Galliano will be a mix of current employees and new members.
John Galliano’s move to Oscar de la Renta was never completed and rumours at the time suggested that it may have been because he was unable to bring the team he needed to New York with him, so his Margiela start - surrounded by those who have worked with him for years - should be a more comfortable fit.
GO, TEAM GALLIANO, GO!!!
Christian Dior Haute Couture S/S 1998 by John Galliano.
Christian Dior Haute Couture S/S 1998 by John Galliano.
John Galliano, 1993.
John Galliano S/S 1993 RTW.