Wild boy Galliano secures place in fashion history

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The Independent Online


John Galliano took a French bourgeois institution - the House of Givenchy - and turned it upside down yesterday evening with his first collection since taking over at the helm of the couture house last July.

The Givenchy customers of old will be looking elsewhere for their neat suits and elegant evening gowns because the British designer's debut couture collection was aimed at whole new class of customer, including Marissa Berenson, granddaughter of the great coutourier Schiaparelli, Palomo Picasso, and Portuguese socialite Sao Schlumberger and Nan Kempner. Tina Turner sat enraptured throughout her first couture show and there were dollar signs flashing in her eyes as she was swept backstage for a closer look at the duchess satin ballgowns with 12ft trains, the deceptively simple plain black smoking suits, the oriental kimono opera coats, the lime green ballgowns and the bright red and orange column dresses made of sari silk. Model Kirsten McNemeny bowed to the rock star's feet at the end of the show to plant a kiss firmly on her lips.

It is almost inconceivable to think how the genteel and low-key house of Givenchy that was always the home of good tasteful dressing has changed in the hands of the wild boy Galliano, who has traded in his dreadlocks for a well-groomed, jaw-length bob. But this was the collection the designer has always wanted to show. And while his ready-to-wear collections might, in the past, have been irrelevant for everyday life, the fantasy world of haute couture is what he has always dreamed of. And in this context, his clothes, which are themselves full of references to great moments in fashion history, are a new step forward.

The collection also marked the debut of the new face of Givenchy - not Kate Moss or Stella Tennant, but an unknown 16-year-old American plucked by Galliano from an audition for a movie. Ramsey Jones is from Tampa, Florida, and has signed an exclusive contract with Givenchy. The curtain opened and there she was, perched on top of a dozen mattresses like the princess and the pea, in an 18th-century lilac duchess satin train dress with a cobweb of silver filigree over her shoulders.

The old guard may be wringing their hands in despair, but John Galliano's place in history is confirmed as the man who took haute couture, a refined world that involves only a handful of the world's richest women, and made it all his own.