Metropolitan life: How to show off - in paris fashion

The showrooms of designer John Galliano are the toast of the town. Ian Phillips reports
For most of the year, John Galliano's showroom near the Place de la Bastille in Paris is a bare space with white walls and wooden beams. But by next Thursday, it will be transformed beyond recognition. Buyers and fashion editors will find not only a circus ring, but also a fortune teller's tent complete with a crystal ball and leopard-skin rug.

Galliano, the English eccentric who breathed new life into Parisian haute couture (he is currently the chief designer at the House of Givenchy and is hotly tipped to take over at Christian Dior) is not planning to rival Disneyland Paris. This is simply the latest innovation he has brought to the world of la mode. He has called upon the talents of interior designer Laurent Buttazzoni to decorate the huge space to correspond with the theme of each collection. Every six months, Buttazzoni is given a budget of roughly FFr100,000 (pounds 13,000) and a team of carpenters, painters and light engineers to come up with a decor to thrill the international style pack. Each design is in place for a month - just long enough for visitors to soak up the mood of the latest collection. "It is an extension of Galliano's supreme talent," enthuses Joan Burstein, owner of Browns store in South Molton Street. "Every collection is not just about clothes, but about a fantasy."

As with many of Galliano's ideas, it has swiftly been adopted elsewhere. In June, the Japanese fashion designer Kenzo asked Buttazzoni to deck out his showroom and the concept looks set to become a hot new fashion phenomenon. "The showroom always manages to catch the spirit of the collection,"says Galliano. "Many buyers have shown an interest in reproducing this in their specialist and department stores."

For Kenzo, Buttazzoni conjured up a Japanese garden with gravel and stone slabs on the floor, bullrushes and oriental screens covered with a multitude of paper flowers. The effect was pretty, but nowhere near as grand as his designs for Galliano.

The pair met through a common friend in London's Subterranea nightclub in 1993. Buttazzoni remembers being immediately fascinated by Galliano. "I don't even think that I had seen his work then," he says, "but I was astounded by the way he looked. He was wearing a classic camel coat with high-heeled pimp's shoes."

Their first joint collaboration dates back to one of the most stunning catwalk shows of recent years. When socialite Sao Schlumberger offered Galliano the use of a town mansion to present his third Parisian collection in 1994, he had just one problem: what were people going to sit on? Buttazzoni suggested hiring old, damaged furniture which would give quests the impression that they had come to an abandoned house. Dead leaves were then scattered on the floor as if they had blown in through an open window. A huge chandelier lay in the middle of the floor as if it had fallen from the ceiling and the dust was left firmly in place. "From that experience, we discovered we were on the same wavelength," says Buttazzoni, and the idea to decorate the showroom soon followed.

Now, one month before the supermodels hit the catwalk in Galliano's bias- cut creations, the fashion designer meets his showroom designer to show him his sketches for the show and relate the "story" behind each collection. "There is often a heroine," says Buttazzoni. "She travels a lot and has such-and-such a past. So, it's very easy for me to imagine the architecture and atmosphere of the places she has been to."

For the first showroom early last year, the inspiration for Galliano's show was Dolores del Rio, an old B-movie actress. Born in Spain, she had travelled extensively throughout Africa. Images of flamenco dancers were projected on the walls, a zebra-motif carpet ran down the middle and the sales staff received buyers on wooden chairs which had horns sticking out of them.

For the spring / summer 1996 collection, based on Degas and Boldini, Buttazzoni imagined a dance studio with mirrors and an exercise bar along one wall. For the last show, he turned his attention to native American Indians. "I imagined that the Indians had discovered a lodge," recalls Buttazzoni. The sitting room had patchworks and Navajo rugs and floor lighting reproduced the traditional Indian zig-zag motif.

"When John walked in, he said to me, `I want to live here. I wish this could be my house'," recalls Buttazzoni. "Now, you couldn't get a better compliment than that."