Through years of runway seasons cycling each other like clothes in a washing machine, the fashion industry and its loyal participants have created a community seduced by nostalgia. We don’t know we’re in an iconic era until it’s gone, and we love to denounce the over-saturated present as we reminisce on the past in order to feel subversive, opinionated, or well-versed. Fashion fanatics and critics alike will forever revere Phoebe Philo’s classic Céline (RIP) and Tom Ford’s sexed-up Gucci, but any designer would be hard-pressed to reign over an era as longed-for as John Galliano’s Dior.
One of the first British designers to take over a French fashion house, Galliano served as Dior’s creative director from 1996 to 2011. From Christian Dior’s first collection in 1947, the brand was known for its streamlined femininity and opulence. In this collection, Dior introduced the silhouette of rounded shoulders, a snatched waist, and a full skirt, signaling a post-war departure from regulated and militarized women’s fashion—a “New Look,” as he called it.
Enter Galliano. In an age where fashion houses relied heavily on history and house codes, he took Dior’s concepts of femininity and opulence and pushed them to the very edge of an unexpected, artfully-clad cliff. The result was one of the most adrenaline-inducing brand revamps in fashion history.
Under Galliano, each Dior collection was a fantastical mixture of history and pop influences. His runway shows weren’t presentations of clothing but rather elaborate and theatrical experiences similar to seeing a live play or going to the movies. Models walked the runway in wearable art, including radical headgear created by British milliner Stephen Jones, surrounded by larger-than-life sets created from Galliano’s exotic research trips. He equated high fashion with the spectacular in a way that the industry had never seen before.
Galliano considered his Dior haute couture runways as “rupture” moments for the house. His Fall/Winter 1999 Couture show was inspired by the 1999 film The Matrix, with Galliano adding, “The dresses are evil, evil. But you have to have the Romantic—they die for that, my ladies.” His Fall/Winter 2000 Couture show opened with a wedding complete with a bridal party followed by a bloody Marie Antoinette and a priest. For Spring 2003 Couture, Galliano had just returned from a three-week excursion to China and Japan. He sent billowing, bright fabrics down the runway alongside Chinese dancers and circus performers.
Then, he was fired.
Following a scandal in 2011, after 15 years of running Dior the house dismissed him for “odious behavior.” His successors include Raf Simons, who maintained the house’s sense of high fashion but scaled down Galliano’s narratives, and Maria Grazia Chiuri, who has breathed a new concept of femininity into the house’s history as the first appointed female Creative Director.
Dior has changed drastically since Galliano’s dismissal, and so has the public’s reaction to it. While Maria Grazia Chiuri has brought back modern iterations of Galliano-for-Dior-isms like the saddle bag and the newspaper print, the sense of fantasy has dropped lower on the Dior’s identifying characteristics. The modern Dior woman is an ergonomist like Chiuri herself, focused on the practical and the comfortable.
On one hand, the practical and comfortable feels more realistic to consumers, particularly as we adjust to a new quarantine-era normal. In a time where consumers might be more reluctant to spend money on fashion than ever before, a fashion house must blend style with practicality in order to sell. A fashion brand cannot achieve financial and commercial success without stylistic appeal, but stylistic appeal cannot exist if consumers can’t picture themselves wearing the brand.
While critics looking for the fantastical qualities of Dior’s past have cried that the house picked the wrong person for the job upon seeing Maria Grazia Chiuri’s slogan t-shirts and tulle skirts, consumers outside of the runway’s front-row seats have seemed to enjoy the more practical designs. In 2019, Business of Fashion reported that Dior’s total sales were expected to increase by 26 percent from the previous year, surpassing sales at the separately managed Christian Dior Parfums. Kepler Chevreux reported that Dior brand sales could grow more than an estimated €9 billion by 2025 and said that the brand should be higher valued in LVMH’s Statement of Position.
“Now, when consumers do spend money on fashion, their choices have become disproportionately influenced by product quality, practicality, comfort and value for money, with trendiness and style falling lower in priority, resulting in a marked shift towards basic and casual-wear items,” Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company reported this month.
There may not ever be another Galliano at Dior. Fashion has underwent a paradigm shift in which brands are more revered than the designers responsible for them. Someone who buys a Gucci belt or bag today might not know that it was designed by Italian eccentric Alessandro Michele, just as someone who buys a Dior slingback pump might not know that Maria Grazia Chiuri is part of a long line of successors to one of fashion’s greatest and most controversial visionaries.
There may not ever be another Galliano at Dior because the current state of fashion is not depending on it.
For now, we’ll live vicariously through Instagram accounts like @diorinthe2000s as we watch fashion houses try to cater to our new normal. After all, Hedi Slimane just sent sweatpants down the Celine runway, re-defining the posh codes that the house has traditionally stood for. There’s still hope for fans of the fantastical, though, as kitschy and campy trends make their way through the cracks of the fashion industry once more.
Time will tell if fantastical runway shows and collections set in larger-than-life manmade sets—like elaborate plays that make us forget about the world we live in—are meant for Instagram candy or real-life influence.
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