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First published: January 2001

John Galliano

by Michael Sones

Well, what a time it has been for John Galliano at the Paris Fashion Week 2001!

The fashion writers have raved about the British designer's latest inspirational haute couture for the house of Dior which, in the tradition of underwear becoming outerwear a la Madonna in the 1980s, has turned the fashion world inside out. As true fashion does, ever pushing the boundaries, Galliano's at times outrageous creative genius both reflects and transforms the spirit of the age. Both theatre and spectacle, Galliano's radical shows draw attention, as much great art does, to the previously unnoticed obvious and bathe the already known in new light.

The theme for this year's show was "modern female heroes." It began with 1940s Wonder Woman and continued to the icon of computer fantasy fashion, Lara Croft of Tomb Raider. Suffused with energised sexuality Galliano's fashion, as always, danced along the razor's edge of the boundary where the sensual and the erotic so easily slide over into the perverse and pornographic. Bare breasted Amazons strode down the catwalk carrying baseball bats androgynously suggesting both violence and lust.

Like much of modern fashion Galliano's style seems to epitomize one of the characteristics of postmodern developed societies-the erasing of boundaries. Women dress with some of the attire of men, clothes are used to reveal rather than conceal the body in a way which is more erotic, exciting and teasing than a nude body could ever be. Garments of underwear become outerwear with the 19th century restricting corset being transformed into an outerwear garment suggestive of an energised female sexuality desperate to break free from a repression in a manner which is both pleasing and teasing.

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His "Hobo chic" collection, at the Paris Fashion Week show a year ago, outraged the Parisian homeless and drew howls of protest from socially and politically concerned community organizers. Then, gorgeous models dressed in the torn, deconstructed, and reconstructed clothes of tramps and disheveled mad women danced down the catwalk. Hair was festooned with strips of paper and comb. Mascara and blotches of make-up gave the appearance of luxurious dirt. Was this the elite and the gorgeous mocking the most excluded segments of postmodern industrial societies, the homeless, the ugly and the mad? What is going on when the style of luxury clothing for the fashionable rich is reconstructed out of the necessities of the excluded poor. Thought-provoking as ever, was this Galliano making a mockery of today's rich in his mirroring of fin de siecle (of the last 19th century) "Rag Balls" in which French aristocrats dressed in versions of the clothes of the destitute? Galliano says the inspiration for the clochards came to him while taking his morning jog along the Seine. Mockery or not, it drew the attention of the media and the fashion conscious rich to the plight of the poor.

John Galliano was born in 1960. He graduated from St. Martin's School of Art in London in 1984. He is one of the most creative and original fashion designers of the twentieth century taking his inspiration from many historical and fantasy themes in which fashions from previous eras are transformed with modern materials and cuts so that one can see the old in the new. He was appointed head designer for the fashion house Givenchy in 1995 but became the head of Dior in 1996. He has continued to shock, inspire and enthrall since then.

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