Galliano meets his maker: Has Britain's wild child of fashion found someone to keep his business from falling apart at the seams? Roger Tredre met him at his Paris workshop

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
JOHN GALLIANO comes running up the stairs with the air of someone who may be about to miss the last train out of town. He is late. His washing machine has gone haywire. For a man who likes to change his sheets every day, this borders on a catastrophe.

He bursts into nervous laughter. This is Galliano in Paris, living in an apartment on the rue Vieille du Temple and struggling to work out how to cope with the French, their language and their washing machines.

Galliano's move to Paris has been the best- kept secret in fashion. When his London backer, the Danish oil magnate Peder Bertelsen, pulled the plug last November, the phones went off the hook and the golden boy and wild child of British fashion slipped from the public eye. Two months ago, he packed his bags and moved to Paris to start anew with the support of Faycal Amor, a Tangiers-born French designer and manufacturer blessed with pots of money. Now, in a huge, rambling building in the 11th arrondissement, Galliano and Amor are laying plans for a spectacular comeback.

This is the first good news for British fashion in a long time. Galliano's theatrical, fantastical catwalk shows made the headlines season after season. He was the first British designer on the catwalk in the Louvre tents, and the French loved him. His complicated clothes, although bought only by a few, were copied by everyone. Eight years after leaving Central St Martin's School of Art & Design with a first-class degree, he is still the golden boy, even if he has partially decamped to Paris.

In the King's Road in London, Galliano just about blends in. In deeply conventional Paris, heads turn as Galliano - wearing fiercely shredded Westwood jeans and a pink T-shirt with 'Hysterical Schoolgirl' printed across the front - lopes through the streets. Never the retiring sort, he loves it. He has his hair shaved Mohican-style at the sides, with two curling tails descending at the back. His voice is soft, his eyes are wickedly sparkling. He is 31. He is designing his heart out. He is on top of the world.

Galliano, who was Designer of the Year in 1987, does things with fabric that make other designers look like beginners. He has devised his own form of cutting in the round so that sleeves follow the shape of the arm, and jackets turn into curvy sculptures. He cuts fabric on the bias, so that it clings to the body.

'It's a sensuous way of cutting, very fast and fluid, with a great respect for women's bodies,' Galliano says. 'It's like oily water running through your fingers.'

Galliano has a way with words that does not fail him even on the subject of his new, hi-tech factory at Chatellerault, near Poitiers. 'I've never seen anything like it. The machinery is extraordinary. There are sewing machines with electronic eyes that can put a zip in like a dream, like God had made it.'

Juan Carlos Galliano was born in Gibraltar and moved to England at the age of six with his Gibraltan father and Spanish mother. He went to grammar school in Camberwell, south London, where he was a dreamy boy who was bullied. By the time he reached St Martin's, he knew he wanted to be a fashion designer. His final year collection, entitled, with typical fancifulness, 'Les Incroyables', was inspired by the French revolution (predating the current mania for 18th-century looks by some eight years). It rapidly gained legendary status - not just because the press raved, but because it was snapped up by smart retailers (Browns, of South Molton Street, bought the whole lot).

In the mid-Eighties, Galliano became one of a group of young designers (including Alistair Blair, Richard James and Nigel Cabourne) backed by Peder Bertelsen. But his clothes were complicated, uncompromising and expensive to make. He fondly remembers how four girls from the North-east took a day trip to London and invested in one jacket, to be worn on a time- share basis. Not so fondly, he recalls how his jackets and tops trimmed with fabric roses spawned a thousand imitations on the high street.

In 1990, Galliano started showing in Paris. But the story remained pretty much as it had been in Britain - he could make headlines but he could not seem to keep his business afloat. Last November, Galliano was back where he started: another British fashion designer short of money and support. In an interview at the time, he told me: 'I need a Pierre Berge,' a reference to the financial mastermind who runs the Yves Saint Laurent empire.

Is Faycal Amor that man? Amor is in his mid- forties, has long, grey, curling hair, unconventional boardroom etiquette (he likes to sit on the floor in meetings) and an obsession with fashion technology. He set up his own business in 1986 with 50,000 francs ( pounds 5,000). Today, he is both the designer and the business brains behind a pounds 10m company, producing a series of fashion labels better known on the Continent than in Britain: Plein Sud, Aqua Girl, POUR TOUJOURS, and Faycal Amor, his own signature collection.

Galliano, whom Amor has known on and off since the mid-Eighties, is a neat addition to the line-up. Amor says he was shocked that Galliano could not find the right sort of backing in Britain. 'If we are not able to give a chance to the people who have the ideas in our industry, then part of us is dead.'

Amor is keen that Galliano does not lose his 'Britishness' - that strain of eccentric creativity that may inspire the fashion business but is well nigh impossible to turn into profit. The plan is for Galliano to run workshops in both Paris and London, and move between the two cities. The London base, says Galliano, will be the crucible for ideas and prototypes. 'Paris will provide the technical muscle to produce the collections.'

Galliano will retain full control of his business. He will launch a new, lower-priced Galliano's Girl collection in the first week of next month. . In October, he returns to the Paris catwalk after a two season absence with his mainline collection. Next year, if all goes well, he hopes to open a shop in London.

The fashion industry is full of dreamers and people who talk big. There have never been any doubts about Galliano's talent, but there are times when he does not seem altogether of this world. He is one of the few people in the business with almost no interest in money - an endearing trait but not exactly the best grounding for staying solvent. Still, there is much in the set-up at Amor that is convincing: pristine workshops, a methodically ordered warehouse, rows of word processers and a good track record.

Freed from financial constraints for the first time in years (under Bertelsen, Galliano had little leeway to experiment with fabrics), the designer is putting together an extraordinary collection, rich in colour and variety of cloth and upbeat in tone. 'No more destroy]' he says. 'I want to be positive]'

It is the best of Galliano rolled into one, and the designer knows it. In October, the sketches and the story boards will come to life, and Galliano should be back where he belongs - in the forefront of international fashion design.

(Photographs omitted)

Comments