The Broader Picture: Fading glory has its day

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The Independent Culture
THIS WAS the show Robert Altman didn't film. The presence of the wise director and his cameras by almost every other catwalk during the recent French collections, culling scenes for his next film, Pret-a-Porter, had lent a new level of surreality to what is already one of the most self-conscious of events.

Opinions were divided on how chic it was to play a part. The staff of American Vogue had been explicitly instructed not to appear. Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune, by contrast, revelled in a starring role. But John Galliano - no slouch at the photo-opportunity - perhaps forgot to invite the film crew in his haste to put on a show at all.

Only three weeks before the Autumn/Winter 1994 collections began, Galliano bowed to the pressure of fans and fashion editors and agreed to take part. At this point, lack of time stayed the hand of the designer for whom the word eclectic is usually an understatement. He stuck predominantly to black (this pink evening sheath, worn by Christy Turlington, was one exception), restrained his historical influences to a single period (Thirties/Forties) rather than ten, and, having secured the services of the supermodels despite such short notice, sent out the resulting 17 outfits one bright and chilly morning at 9am.

His venue - fortuitously - was the grand town house near Saint Suplice lent him by the rich and well-preserved Parisian socialite Sao Schlumberger, who had moved out, leaving it unsold, into her newly decorated house near the Eiffel Tower.

Schlumberger is a great supporter of Galliano. Whether she knew the fading grandeur of her old home would be the perfect backdrop for his designs, which have regularly had a touch of Miss Havisham about them, or whether there was nowhere else, the empty rooms made a romantic setting, and this, plus the unorthodox manner of the show's inception, placed it high on the list of events of the week.

Altman, sadly, for the sunlight made it very cinematic, wasn't there. But as the photographer who took this picture said, it was reminiscent of the days when the earliest professional catwalk photographers slipped into Madame Gres's salon through the open windows, picking their way through thickets of slumbering duchesses, without motordrives or walkie-talkies.-

(Photograph omitted)

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