The Premier American Couturier

Galanos is legendary perfectionist, obsessed with excellence in every detail, especially in the invisible part of his outfits. Hubert de Givency, who once examined the inside of a dress by Galanos, remarked in amazement: “We don’t make things this well even in Paris”. To receive such a compliment from the famous couturier was a big deal.

Jean Patchett wearing Galanos dress, 1959

James Galanos recently turned 90 years old; every message about his birthday celebration quoted another, almost 90 year old patriarch of fashion, Hubert de Givency, who once examined the inside of a dress by Galanos and remarked in amazement that: “We don’t make things this well even in Paris”. To receive such a compliment from the famous couturier who spent his life designing prêt-à-porter collectionswas was a big deal for the American designer. Galanos was an American designer for whom it was essential to create high-quality fashion garments which could be obtained by simply taking them off the rail in the shop, also underlines everything written about him.

James Galanos in his workshop

However, Galanos was well acquainted with haute couture from his two years spent in Paris as an intern in the house of Robert Piguet during the late 1940’s, during the swift revival in Parisian fashion when it once again became the most important fashion city in the world; and the entire world of fashion began to head there once more.

At the time the team of designers that created the design sketches in the fashion house of Robert Piguet was led by Marc Bohan (who, incidentally, recently turned 88 years old). Marc Bohan became Art Director for Christian Dior in 1960, replacing Yves Saint Laurent who was drafted into the army, a position he held for almost 30 years. James Galanos, Hubert de Givenchy, Marc Bohan and Pierre Cardin represented the last of the designers from the great post-war generation, who went on to create the high fashion of modern times.

The most famous American fashion designers of the XX century, James Galanos - on the right

But that wasn’t the only experience of couture that Galanos had; upon his return to America in 1951 he was employed to draw sketches by Jean-Louis, the costume director for Columbia Pictures that was all-powerful in Hollywood at the time. In fact it was this work that propelled Galanos onwards, he worked with studio stars Rosalind Russel and Judy Garland, his outfits appeared on screens across the land; and in the end he gained the opportunity to open his own fashion house.

James Galanos fashion show, 1964

Success was immediate and universal; and it was precisely the experience of couture that brought him this success. Galanos, whose perfectionism became legendary, was entirely obsessed with perfection in everything and every detail; not only in the visible part of the garment although especially inside. This because of his signature style; and led Givenchy to utter his famous comment with which this post began. He was manic in his care for every single seam; with every cut-out and hem of his dresses and suits made to the highest possible standard. His team of tailors was led by Nondasom Keramitisiom; Galanos was born to Greek immigrants and he retained the loyalty of the diaspora and believed that Greek tailors were among the best; pored over every wire-ribbon and thread to bring each piece up to the required standard. It was precisely this quality of construction which earned Galanos the reputation of ‘the American couturier’; despite the fact that he was not officially as such and could not be without membership to the Paris syndicate of haute couture.

Model wearing James Galanos chiffon dress, 1961

Also, of course, there was his style. He was a brilliant master of classical beauty and classical glamour; complimentary cuts that emphasized everything that should be highlighted and hid everything that needed to be hidden. He had no equal in terms of these harmonious proportions and, most importantly, decoration and finishing. Embroidery, beading, sequins, crystals, cabochons, feathers… he knew how to use them all so that each piece looked like a work of decorative art but never ended up looking like a Christmas decoration. The Parisian school of couture, with its impeccable taste, was unmistakable and instantly recognizable.

Simone Daillencourt wearing Galanos dress, 1959

It was with this same skill that he made his famous chiffon dress (his forté) and fur coats made from mink, sable, lynx and karakule for furrier Peter Dion in which he worked with fur in the same was as with cloth to attain the plasticity and expressiveness as if working with chiffon. He was extremely fond of lace and used it in many unexpected ways, for example on a coat. His pieces cost astronomical amounts, which was also a trademark of his.

Jackie Kennedy wearing Games Galanos dress, 1961

In interviews, Galanos would often say that he is particularly proud of the fact that he did not only dress actresses; among his clients were Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and many others; but also the ladies of New York’s high society, from Jacqueline Kennedy to Gloria Vanderbilt. He was the favourite tailor of both old and new American money.

Model wearing James Galanos coat and dress, 1972

He reached the peak of his career during the 1980’s, however, when he dressed the First Lady of USA Nancy Reagan. She attended both the first and second inaugurations of her husband in his dresses; both times wearing a pearl white outfit with embroidery and beading. Nancy Reagan noted that his clothes were so expensive “so that no one can afford to dress entirely in Jimmy’s garment, therefore I hold firmly onto those which I have”. Galanos also recalled that he sent a new dress to Washington every month during both terms of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Heidi Klum Dress wearing James Galanos vintage dress

Owners of vintage Galanos outfits find them difficult to part with due to the high prices they command, whilst vintage Galanos are of the very highest cult status. Decades, the famous New York vintage store, announce the arrival of every John Galanos gown as if it were a newly discovered Raphael. It is considered particularly chic to wear vintage Galanos to the Oscar party (like Heidi Klum), or to the annual ball of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (like Amber Valetta). It is hardly worth mentioning that every piece will only appreciate in value in the future; and will cost an absolute fortune in ten years taking into account the rate at which prices of vintage garments has increased over the last few years. If considering vintage garments as an investment vehicle then outfits from James Galanos represent one of the most sure-fire options.

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Author: Elena Stafyeva


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The Premier American Couturier


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