If there is one country that serves as a big source of inspiration for John Galliano, that country would probably be Japan.
His shows are always historical and cultural; among some of his themes have been ancient Egypt, Victorian-era England, and Native American culture, but Japan is one that occasionally recurs in his shows. Whether it’s as blatant as a kimono or as subtle as kabuki-inspired makeup (courtesy of Pat McGrath), Galliano’s pieces have always had touches of Japanese culture infused to them. Three of the his most memorable Japonais shows include his Fall/Winter 1994-1995 collection from his own label, and two collections from his tenure at Christian Dior, Spring/Summer 2003 Haute Couture and Spring/Summer 2007 Haute Couture.
John Galliano F/W ‘94-’95
Poetic, romantic, erotic, and exotic are some adjectives used to describe this collection. Kimonos and obi-belts with flower embroideries were clear Japanese influences. The fabrics consisted of black satin-back crepe while the color palette included soft pinks and yellows contrasted against the rich black fabric. The cuts were clean yet hid patterns only visible when looked at closely; the seams secretly took the shapes of stars and scallops.
Kate Moss’ look became one highlight of the show, with the transparent pink kimono revealing her lace underwear in addition to the stockings and the obi belt, reminiscent of the innocence of Cio Cio San in Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. The headpieces were courtesy of millinery Stephen Jones and hairdresser Julien d’Ys, who crafted together black hats inspired by Elsa Schiaparelli with Möbius-like projections. The show was staged in a misty, old Parisian salon, then came the storm of supermodels which included Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and Shalom Harlow to add to the show’s drama and elegance. This collection marks Galliano’s earliest Japonais collections, and this was conducive in both elevating his reputation as a subversive, new British designer, and in increasing the sales of his ready-to-wear brand (Bergdorf Goodman reportedly bought all of the pieces of this collection).
Christian Dior S/S ‘03 Haute Couture
As he experimented previously with Japanese minimalism, this collection was amplified with Galliano’s signature maximalism.
Silks and chiffons swathed the models as they walked on the runway, almost overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the fabrics layered on them. The geometric coats are tailored similarly to that of origami while the flowers reveal Galliano’s romanticism through hanakotoba, the Japanese language of flowers; the red roses symbolizes love, the white daisies symbolizes faith, while the pink camellias symbolizes longing. Some pieces had the hineri of the kimono strangely incorporated with 18th-Century hoop skirts in the mix. The color palette included pink, yellow, blue, black, gold, purple, red, and green.
It’s almost easy to get lost amidst the flamboyance and fall blind to the aesthetics of Dior, but you can find it within the sheer elegance of the collection; Galliano pervades Dior’s femininity and painstaking tailoring with his own exuberance. The collection also showcased one of McGrath’s finest makeup creations yet, opting for an exaggerated kabuki look to compliment the pieces. Chinese acrobats were also sent to Paris to entertain the crowd – as if the immense theatricality wasn’t enough for the show. This collection is one of Galliano’s loudest and audacious to date, and personally one of my favourites.
Christian Dior S/S ‘07 Haute Couture
This time, Galliano experimented with something more subtle but with the same amount of drama from the previous collection. Returning once more to kimonos, obi belts, origami, and flowers, Galliano merged these influences with elements from Christian Dior’s “New Look” such as the cinched waist, the full skirt, and the rounded shoulders; include geisha-like makeup and Japanese prints in the mix (one dress had a print of The Great Wave off Kanagawa) and you’ve got an avant-garde Japonais collection that’s both timeless and modern at once.
Far from formulaic, Galliano also experimented with some elements from contemporary Japan including metallics (perhaps due to Japan’s penchant for technology) and an Issey Miyake-like pattern on one look. The unique color palette of lime greens and yellows stand out among the pinks, purples, whites, and blacks. Headpieces with fans, ribbons, umbrellas, and flowers showcase a different approach from the geometric ones in his 1994 collection. My favorite look was the finale piece worn by Shalom Harlow, a white gown with subtle flower embroideries and an origami-like finishing concealing the thick layers of tulle underneath.
Some of Galliano’s other works still evoke Japan to some extent, but none of them carry the same level of intensity as these three collections do. I always thought of Japan as a perfect theme that bridges the gap between Galliano and Dior since Japanese aesthetics seamlessly blend both avant-gardism and timelessness; that’s also why I personally prefer his two Japonais collections over that from his own label. Galliano is the only Western designer I can think of who can capture the wild eclecticism of Japanese culture flawlessly.