September 20, 2018

James Galanos, Cartier & me


Today is the birthday of James Galanos who was an American fashion designer and couturier born on September 20, 1924, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the only son of Greek-born parents, Helen Gorgoliatos and Gregory Galanos.      

According to Wikipedia, his father was a frustrated artist who ran a restaurant in southern New Jersey, where Galanos had his first glimpses of well-dressed women. Galanos recalled that he was "a loner, surrounded by three sisters. I never sewed; I just sketched. It was simply instinctive. As a young boy I had no fashion influences around me but all the while I was dreaming of Paris and New York."

James Galanos - 1975
photo by Richard Avedon  

On Oct. 25, 1985, Galanos staged a promotional fashion show for his ready-to-wear designs accessorized by Cartier with informal modeling in the elegant Landmark Lobby of the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, California. I was production coordinator for the event.   

Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to meet Galanos himself; during the production planning I dealt with "his people". But it was exciting on the night of the event to watch the gorgeous models in the elegant Galanos designs descend the ornate staircase flanked by beautiful marble columns  . . .      

. . . then wend their way through the equally elegant crowd with the men in their tuxedos and and the women in evening gowns. Of course, many of the women were wearing designs by Galanos.       

~ ~ ~  

In 1942 James Galanos went to New York City intending to enroll at a school headed by Barbara Karinska, the great Russian stage designer and costumer. When the school failed to open in the autumn, he enrolled at the Traphagen School of Fashion, one of the first schools of its kind. He attended two semesters at Traphagen, the first spent in general design studies and the second in draping and construction. After eight months, in 1943, Galanos left the school because he felt that what he wanted to learn could only be acquired from practical experience in the garment industry.

date & photographer unknown  

In 1944, Galanos got a position as a general assistant at the New York East 49th Street emporium of Hattie Carnegie but disappointed, Galanos left Carnegie and began selling his sketches to individual manufacturers on Seventh Avenue for less than $10.00 per sketch. Then, in 1945, his former Traphagen style and fashion teacher Elisabeth Rorabach called his attention to a help-wanted ad she had seen in The New York Times, placed by textile magnate Lawrence Lesavoy. "His beautiful wife, Joan, was hoping to launch a ready-to-wear dress business in California, and they were looking for a designer," recalled Galanos. The Lesavoys employed him for $75.00 a week and sent him to Los Angeles. However, the Lesavoys divorced, and Galanos lost his job.

photo by Nelson Tiffany

"Out of pity," Galanos said, Jean Louis, head costume designer at Columbia Pictures, hired him as a part-time assistant sketch artist. Soon afterwards, Lawrence Lesavoy agreed to send the 24-year-old Galanos to Paris, just as couture houses there were rebounding from the war. Couturier Robert Piguet absorbed the American into his stable of assistants, among whom were Pierre Balmain, Hubert de Givenchy, and Marc Bohan. At the Piguet atelier, Galanos met with fabric and trimming suppliers to choose materials, sketched and draped up designs under the eye of Piguet, who oversaw his work on a daily basis.

date & photographer unknown

In 1948, Galanos decided to return to the U.S and accepted a job with Davidow, a dress-making firm in New York. The new job allowed him very little creativity, and he resigned shortly.

James Galanos - 1954 
photo by Allan Grant

In 1951, Galanos decided to take another shot at California, and when the opportunity arose for him to open his own company, Galanos Originals, in 1952, he created a small collection, which was immediately ordered by Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills.     

Saks Fifth Avenu department store 
 photo by Thomas S. England

He then opened his New York showroom where a Neiman Marcus clothing buyer discovered him and predicted his styles would soon “set the world on fire.” Stanley Marcus, the president of Neiman Marcus, agreed and soon proclaimed that the greatest and most treasured luxury in the world for a woman to have would be a dress by James Galanos."

 James Galanos - Marilyn Monroe - 1950's 
photographer unknown

Legendary magazine editors and style arbiters such as Diana Vreeland, Eleanor Lambert and Eugenia Sheppard became fans, ensuring that he would become a household name within months. From this first collection, his clothing has been admired for its particularly high quality, especially considering it was ready-to-wear, not custom-made.

His chiffon dresses in particular made his reputation in the early 1950s, with their yards of meticulously hand-rolled edges. Many designers worked with chiffon, but Galanos was a true master of the genre. He draped chiffon, pleated it, layered it, used flower prints and fabrics with metallic glints. As tailored as a shirtwaist dress or as seductive as a sarong, he gave chiffon a high style all his own. Sometimes he even gilded it, as in his notable pin-striped dress with a three-dimensional jeweled butterfly embroidered on the chest.    

James Galanos - 1964 
 brocade evening dress w/gold mesh top 
& matching brocade coat. 

Buyers examine the fabric of a floor-length bridal gown with floral appliqué, veil and headpiece from the James Galanos Couture Spring 1964 collection.

 James Galanos - 1964 
photo by Tony PalmierI

In 2002, he blasted the fashion industry for catering to only young women with perfect bodies. In an interview with WWD he asked the reporter, Eric Wilson, shaking his head in contempt, "How many women can wear just a patch over their crotch and a bra? Aren't you embarrassed when you see a young girl walking down the street practically naked? Fashion is geared only to young people today," Galanos continued. "All we see is Levi's and bare bellies to the point of nausea. There are no clothes for elegant women. Let's face it, some of the things you see in the paper are absolutely monstrous looking – and I'm not squeamish. God knows I made sexy clothes in my day, but there's a point when you have to say, 'Enough, already'."

photo by Fred Lyon

He reinvented himself as an abstract photographer, in 2006, at age 82, his first exhibition of photography was held to great acclaim at the Serge Sorokko Gallery in San Francisco. The show featured more than 40 photographs taken by Galanos over the previous several years. The works were mostly abstract, with the notable exception of a few mystical, mirror-effect enigmatic landscapes. Much like fashion design, his photography revolved around material, shape and color. The subjects were crafted by Galanos out of paper or fabric and then photographed in evocative light, creating subtle variations of tone and shading.  

James Galanos - 1968 
photo by Nick Machalaba 

Galanos was the subject of numerous museum solo exhibitions, and his designs are in the permanent collections of important museums worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Victoria and Albert Museum in London, U.K, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in Los Angeles, Musée Galliera in Paris, France, the Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC, the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, N.Y., the Brooklyn Museum in Brooklyn, N.Y. and the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco, California.           

James Galanos Dress, Lace, silk matelassé and silk taffeta - 1987
Phoenix Art Museum  (link below)
photo by Ken Howie 

“Everything he made was beautifully designed and exquisitely crafted,” said Kaye Spilker, costume and textiles department curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which held a Galanos retrospective in 1987 and has 106 of his designs, which he donated between 1961 and 1998. “What’s interesting about him is you see the broad spectrum of his work, from the ‘50s to the ‘80s, from very tailored, ladylike and conservative, to bright splashy prints. That could be the L.A. effect.”        

James Galanos - Celine Dion - Academy Awards - 2007 
photo by Frazer Harrison

His designs were a favorite among socialites and Hollywood stars. He dressed Diana Ross for the 1979 Academy Awards and Nancy Reagan for the 1981 and 1985 inaugural balls.      

White House Red Room
photographer unknown

Galanos retired in 1998 and lived in Palm Springs, California and West Hollywood. He died on October 30, 2016. He was 92 years old.       

Viewfinder links:     
Hubert de Givenchy     
Marilyn Monroe ~ Imperfection is beauty       
Carl Van Vechten & the Harlem Renaissance             
Net links:     
Vanity Fair ~ When Galanos Spelled Glamour        
WWD ~ Galanos Focus of Exhibition at the Phoenix Art Museum   
The Cut ~ Remembering James Galanos, Who Helped Define California Glamour  
NY Times ~ James Galanos, Fashion Designer for the Elite, Dies at 92   
YouTube links:     
James Galanos telephone interview - 1997    
James Galanos      
“I’m only interested in designing for a certain type of woman,
specifically, one that has money."
                    ~ James Galanos 
Styrous® ~ September 20, 2018       

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