John Galliano: ELL profiles the world’s most hated fashion man

John Galliano

John Galliano is a Brockley boy and internationally celebrated fashion designer.

Before the events of last week he was most well known for his explosively theatrical catwalk shows and personal wardrobe featuring wildly extravagant costumes – from pirate-chic to desert prince.

Of course, that has all changed. Now he is being associated with vulgar and anti-Semitic attacks on members of the public, accusations that have led to the termination of his 15-year reign as the head of Dior.

Juan Carlos Antonio Galliano was born in Gibraltar on November 28, 1960 to a south London plumber father and Andalusian mother. The outlandish designer has attributed the “sensuous wonderland” of his Mediterranean heritage with being the overwhelming inspiration for his life and work.

When John was six, the family moved back to England and lived for a while in Streatham and later moved to Brockley, in Lewisham. Speaking to Grazia last year, Galliano claimed his “accent has become completely South London again”.

It was whilst he was at Wilson’s Grammar School, in Sutton, that the designer first encountered textiles – and it was apparent he had a natural eye for fashion. He went on to study Fashion Design at Central St. Martins College of Art, where he began experimenting with the slinky bias cut now synonymous with his work.

His graduate show “Les Incroyables” – based on the French Revolution – earned him a first class honours degree and was commissioned by the exclusive London fashion boutique Browns.

In 1990, Galliano, a young, almost-destitute punk, turned his back on the London fashion scene and moved to Paris. He was uninspired by what he saw and soon brought his trademark theatricality to the minimalist catwalk shows left over from the 1980s.

Constantly on the brink of bankruptcy, but with the inimitable creative drive of an impoverished fashion student, Galliano became the first Brit to head a French couture house when he was appointed creative director of Givenchy in 1995.

In 1996 he became the glittering head of the House of Christain Dior and has since dressed an eclectic collection of beautiful women – from Diana, Princess of Wales to Kate Moss.

He has spent the past decade producing spectacularly theatrical shows. Once he flew in a dozen Shaolin monks to traverse the catwalk swinging swords and num-chucks; while another show was set on a platform of the Paris Metro, which had been transformed into a North African souk – complete with imported amber sand.

Suzy Menkes, head fashion reporter and Editor for the Herald Tribune, has described his fashion presence as “the most staggering example of self-indulgent luxury since Louis XIV held court at Versailles.”

He has been publicly applauded for his contribution to international fashion, being awarded a CBE by Queen Elizabeth in 2001, and in 2007 France’s highest award, the Legion of Honour, by Nicholas Sarkozy.

Galliano has been described as a “blatant exhibitionist” but is also known to be personally quite shy and obsessed with physical perfection. His own entrance to each catwalk show are almost as important as the main event, and his somewhat obsessive fitness regime is well known.

The South London raised designer is now a household name, not for his awe-inspiring collections that perfectly fuse fantasy and classicism, but for the drunken explosion of racist vitriol that has been immortalised on film.

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