John Galliano. It’s a strong, Gibraltarian name with the reverberating effect of a sun-sized gong, at least in terms of hyper-real talent, OTT flamboyance, and high-profile controversy. Yet despite living in the extreme ends of a very public spectrum, the prolific designer was (and is) a softer soul than his reputation lets on – a Catholic-turned-club kid stalwart of the fashion industry; the sweetest of provocateurs.
His personal beliefs and feelings aside, no educated fashion-phile can deny his supernova talents as an industry visionary – and it may very well be that he was, is, and always will be misunderstood. Here, through their own words, three of Galliano’s closest peers provide a rare insight into the life of a master, both then and now.
“No educated fashion- phile can deny his supernova talents as an industry visionary”
Alexandre Roux, Galliano’s friend and former assistant (now womenswear designer at Galliano)
“The first time I met John was for a job interview at Claridges. I was very excited and stressed to meet him. When I got to the door, it was slightly open and I saw long hair and a red bandana passing in front of me. It was John. I have to say, I had a very good feeling about him – it just all felt right!
I started working on Galliano and Dior with two other students from Saint Martins – I remember it felt a bit like an extension from school – he just wanted us to have fun and to express our creativity without limits… a dream job. I got closer with John on research trips – two times per year we’d take three weeks going on fashion adventures to China, India, Moscow, Mexico, Los Angeles, New York and Japan. John was super energetic and was always looking for new things and new ideas. Though when he isn’t working, John is very gentle and nice – he’s open, and interested in meeting anybody, poor, rich, young, old – to him there’s no difference. He also had a rare humor – one time, we struck poses from Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ song on camelback in the middle of the Egyptian desert! I have many of these cherished moments with him – one in Luxor, again in Egypt. We took a balloon at six in the morning above the King’s Valley – the pictures we took during that trip were an inspiration for the haute couture Gamme de Couleure collection.
“I’ve learned from him to not worry much about what other people thing, and to follow my real wishes and ideas – being criticized is not a bad thing – au contraire!”
John always talked about his experience at Central Saint Martins in a very nice and happy way – he always invited his teachers to his shows. It seems that John also spent a lot of time in the library at Charing Cross – where he would send his designers, even, to do research for the Dior and Galliano collections. No matter what, he always had more things to say in fashion, more excitement. Fashion for him is an adventure. I don’t know how to explain it but he is the most passionate art director I have ever met – he lives his creations.
It’s weird to say, but I have for him this love and respect that I have for my own father, as he always was protective and strong. I’ve learned from him to not worry much about what other people thing, and to follow my real wishes and ideas – being criticized is not a bad thing – au contraire! Oh and one more point – one thing no one knows about John? Well, he is a woman! No, I am joking! But he did used to put shiny transparent varnish on his nails to make them stronger.”
Howard Tangye, Galliano’s former tutor
“When I first started to teach at Central Saint Martins, around 1979/1980, he was one of my first students. You could tell straight away that this boy had something special – I could tell that there was something interesting about his drawings, something original, something rather beautiful and individual.
He definitely had a following of people when he was at college – there were friends, people, gathering in the hallway at the end of class, waiting for him to come out. That is what happens with anybody who has a special quality, people want to be near them and support them. He wasn’t loud or outrageous, but quite light and nicely dressed. Just a nice student.
He has been very lucky, but unfortunately unlucky, I suppose, because of recent times.”
Elisa Palomino, Galliano’s former head of studio
“It was fabulous working at Galliano. Every day was like, ‘wow!” – John is so generous and there is so much to learn from him. His studio is a consummation of everything you learn at Central Saint Martins – it was like being back at college. When I first arrived he kept asking, ‘Where is your sketchbook? Where is the research?’ I first met him in Paris, and it was like meeting a soul mate… It was very powerful. We are kindred spirits in a modern way.
When something is your passion, time doesn’t matter – I don’t think he enjoys having holidays; designing is his life and he doesn’t mind. Our research trips were the holidays – he’d let everyone take turns attending, he was very democratic that way. Moreover, he is the kind of the cross- reference. If he was doing a collection inspired by Africa, it would never be just Africa – it would be Africa and pinstripes.”
Illustration by Frida Wannerberger