Fashion: Inside the head of John Galliano

NEWS THAT our own Lady Harlech was scouring the streets of Paris for bits of broken crockery was received throughout the fashion world with cries of joy. Though at first it was rumoured that she had been retained to repair the early canvases of Julian Schnabel, aficionados instantly recognised the signs. The presence of Lady H, his invaluable muse, could only herald The Return of John Galliano.

Was it almost a decade since the giggling boy of St Martin's School of Art launched his wild costumery on an unsuspecting British fashion public obsessed with Japanese tailoring? Could it be eight years since milady, then a mere slip of a girl not long up from Oxford, made her first foray on behalf of our young genius into the cellars of Hammer House, coming away with stocks of old cobwebs, death-blue lipstick and hair matting fixe?

During a career in which creative success has been dogged by the economic problems that come from having a ditzy head for figures, Galliano's collections have been famous for historical licence, magical cutting, and the inspiration they provide to more established, designers: viz 'Mmmm. I mean, take that last Chanel collection - it was pure Galliano,' a member of the French fashion elite confided last week.

After a choppy year in which he lost Peder Bertelsen as a backer last November and found Faycal Amor, a French Moroccan with a pounds 10m fashion company, Galliano has returned to the catwalk with enough ideas to keep the Chambre Syndicale going for years and a collection so complicated it would confound the wardrobe mistress of La Scala.

'Well,' he begins in that gentle voice, given to sudden squeals of hysteria, 'there are lots of 17th-century influences. First we have Marauders - no, not pirates, kind of strong independent women, sort of filibustiers - no, not bustiers - kind of, after the ship's sunk and all the treasure chests are pulled open and the jewels and pearls and velvets are raided by the women, who stick them on under their pirate jackets. Then there's a sort of (consumptive) Death in Venice look with beautiful fabrics, then Shanghai Lil' - a kind of chinoiserie thing with bias-cut dresses appliqued with gold leaf dragons and featuring 'winking' seams. (These are a Galliano invention which, on first examination, look more like gaping seams, but the effect is intentional and, in this case, the little gaps in the seams are backed by red lining

so the dragons' eyes wink as you walk.)

' Then there's the 'Rocker-Sari' look - that's because I saw this skinhead kissing this Indian woman in the street, so it's saris in really rich shades . . . All the fabric in this new collection is very positive. None of it's distressed.'

To the uninitiated, all this might sound competely barmy - and he hasn't even started on the tea stains and the rusty- nail aesthetic. But you better believe it: to the fashion crowd, sated with the luxe, calme et volupte of the grand designers, the spirit of Galliano on the streets of Paris heralds a new creative dawn. The last thing we heard was that the French were unable to supply Fuller's Earth in sufficient quantities, so Lady Harlech ordered some sacks to be flown in from

London - '. . . wonderful beaten into the hats,' she explained.

(Photograph omitted)