Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sorcerer: Fashion's Image Maker


 
 
 
  Nick Knight
Image courtesy of: © Pleasurephoto
 
 
 
 
I think we have to forget and put aside the term photography. It no longer applies to the image we see and consume. We need a new term and I consider myself an image maker.” ~ Nick Knight
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Insensate
(Model: Abbey Lee Kershaw for Dazed & Confused ~ October, 2008 | Fashion: Gareth Pugh ~ Autumn/Winter 2008 collection)
The above ten images are courtesy of: SHOWstudio
 

 
 
Insensate
(Film by Nick Knight & Ruth Hogben)
Video courtesy of: anchorbuildings ~ YouTube

Set to a thundering, atmospheric soundtrack specially devised by artist Matthew Stone and utilising Pugh's twin cinematic inspirations of Predator and The Wizard of Oz as an aesthetic starting-point, this film takes us on a mesmerising, monochrome whirlwind ride, creating a chilling yet compelling world of complex reflection, refraction and glittering incandescence melting in and out of inky black.” (Quote & source: SHOWstudio)

 



I think photography has been wrestling with a burden of telling the truth, which I don't think it was ever particularly good at. ~ Nick Knight





Headpiece by Alexander McQueen
 
 
Giorgio Armani dress; patent-leather gloves by Cornelia James; Rick Owens shoes
 

Undergarment by Alexander Wang; Ann Demeulemeester’s black silk dress; shoes by Alexander McQueen
 

Rick Owen's white cotton & taffeta silk jacket; Eres’s black polyamide & spandex briefs;  LaCrasia gloves; Rick Owens boots


Above left: Haider Ackermann’s one-piece brown & silver polyester bodysuit, polyester top & silk trousers; Louis Vuitton shoes
Above right: vintage Jean-Paul Gaultier bra; Céline’s silk trousers & belt; Jil Sander shoes
 
Nick Knight looked to the timeless language of elegance expounded in the work of Erté, Aubrey Beardsley, Lillian Bassman and Irina Ionesco, amongst others, to explore the future-fantastic visions of Spring/Summer 2012 for W magazine.
 The above six images, quote & descriptive details are courtesy of: SHOWstudio





 
The symbiotic relationship between fashion, photography and commercial advertising is a powerful—albeit a malleable and interdependent—one. (A similar relationship exists between fashion designers and fashion Houses, magazine editors, buyers, retailers and photographers.) Each month, the world's foremost fashion magazines spend much time, thought, planning and effort on editorials whose aim is to seduce a reader into the enticing world of fashion. The hope—and the logical end-result—behind magazine ads and editorials is simple: sell the featured merchandise; fashion is, after all, a multi-billion dollar industry. Of course, the key, elemental note in all of this is the photographer. In her book, Sex and Suits: The Evolution of Modern Dress (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994:27), author Anne Hollander, the erudite art and fashion historian, makes an astute and penetrating observation: “Desirable form in fashion is shown and told in pictures, where the medium can sharpen its edge, swell its curve, polish its surface, underline its fleeting glory....without the camera there would be no fashion.” The projected image, in fashion, is everything.


For the past seven or eight decades, a few fashion photographers have pushed the limits of fashion advertising beyond mere merchandise; they have lifted fashion photography—and projected fashion imagery—to an artistic level. Their names—along with their groundbreaking work—have been acknowledged as stellar, reaching iconic status and hardly needing much of an introduction: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edward Steichen, George Hoyningen-Huene, Richard Avedon, Lillian Bassman, Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, Eugéne Vernier, Horst P. Horst, Erwin Blumenfeld, and Norman Parkinson.
Since then, a new generation of photographers—in a roundabout way, some of whom have, on occasion, even referenced the works of earlier photographers in their own work—have surfaced on the scene; and, in their own inimitable way, have shaped (and reshaped) the fashion landscape through the powerful focus of their lenses: David Bailey, Stephen Meisel, Ellen von Unwerth, Mario Testino, Roxanne Lowit and Patrick Demarchelier have all earned a rightful place in the pantheon of great modern photographers. But within the last three decades, one photographer has pushed the boundaries of contemporary fashion photography—and its sibling, film—to its artistic limits like no other: the internationally acclaimed Nick Knight.





Hat by Balenciaga; skirt by Louis Vuitton; bra by Johanna O'Hagan; gloves by Cornelia James; Marc Jacobs shoes; Jason Wu purse
 
Dress by Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy; hat by Ellen Christine Millinery; Marc Jacobs shoes
 

Dress & boots by Comme des Garçons
 

Above left: top by Junya Watanabe; silk gloves by LaCrasia; Jimmy Choo shoes
Above right: dress & boots by Gareth Pugh


Hat, jacket & shorts are all by Balenciaga
The above six images & descriptive details are courtesy of: SHOWstudio
 
The above twelve images are previously unpublished stills from “Hauteur Space,” a film directed by Nick Knight, styled by Edward Enninful & modeled by Alexia Wright
The photographs also appeared in the Spring/Summer 2012 as part of W Magazine's editorial entitled,





Portent
(Film by Nick Knight & Ruth Hogben)
Video courtesy of: SHOWstudio ~ YouTube

Portent is a sensual, delicate and poetic exploration of romantic Classicism through the male and female form. Nick Knight and Ruth Hogben's fashion film was specifically created to celebrate the introduction of women's collections to thecorner.com, the online 'department store' launched by YOOX Group.”

Released in tandem with the collections' appearance online, the film showcases an allegorical love-story expressed through Autumn/Winter 2009 mens' and womens' fashion from a raft of the world's finest designers, including Maison Martin Margiela, Haider Ackermann, Rick Owens and Viktor & Rolf. A portent, indeed, of the season's fashion to come.”
(Quotes & source: SHOWstudio)




 
The irony is, the man who would endeavour to advance and surpass the traditional boundaries of fashion photography—(and whose work would not be confined only to fashion editorial work but also come to encompass music album sleeve covers, advertisement campaigns, as well as books)—and create an interactive Website—SHOWstudio: The Home of Fashion Film (a multi-format fashion and art broadcasting Internet site that focuses entirely on the creative process, from its beginning to its end)—did not intentionally set out to forge one of the most unique photographic careers, and certainly not one in the fashion industry; quite the opposite. Professionally, Knight's family background was anything but fashionable; it was scientific. Born in London in 1958, both of his parents were doctors: his father was a psychologist; his mother, a physiotherapist. His brother, furthermore, was a chemist. So it was not surprising that Knight had, likewise, also determined to follow in their footsteps and pursue a profession in the field of science. (In an October 2012 interview with Lucy Morris of Dazed Digital, Knight has stated in the past that he applies a scientific, analytical approach to all his photography: “There's a certain coolness and removed approach to science that I try to apply to all my photography. I try to stand back and understand and evaluate what I am seeing so that I can see the truth and what is actually there. It's an attempt to approach things with an open mind[Quote: Morris, L., Dazed Digital, 2012].)
 
 
A style-obsessed teenager who first gravitated towards glam-rock and then to Skinheads and Skinhead culture—a fascination that would eventually manifest itself in Knight's first book of photographs, Skinhead. (Published in 1982 while still a student at Bournemouth & Poole College of Art, Skinhead now stands as a documentation of London's East End Skinheads and for which he was awarded the Designers and Art Directors Award for Best Book Cover.) Knight had begun studying for a degree in biology when he came to the realization that “I had no interest in it whatsoever.” Instead, still in his teens and having taken up photography—(“there was always a camera lying around the house, and it was a way to chat up girls,” he decided to study it. “Being told you could look at photography books all day was just fantastic”)—he enrolled at Bournemouth & Poole College of Art and Design (now known as Arts University Bournemouth  in the county of Dorset, two hours away from London, on the South Coast of England) in pursuit of his new interest and from where, around the age of twenty-four, he graduated with distinction in 1982. (Quotes: Rawsthorn, A., Vision Quest, 2007)
(Sources: Rawsthorn, A., Vision Quest, The New York Times, April 15, 2007; Craven, J., Vogue | Nick Knight, May 11, 2011; Morris, L., Dazed Digital, October 2012)
  
  
 


The above three images are courtesy of: Catch Fire
 
 
Above left image, courtesy of: Pictify | Above right image, courtesy of: Anthony Luke Photography
Body Language
(Styled by Alister Mackie for AnOther Magazine | AnOther Man)
  
 

 
Following his graduation from art school and the publication of Skinhead, Nick Knight managed to persuade a fledgling magazine at the time, i-D Magazine—a magazine that always prided itself for being at the forefront of London's creative subculture, featuring alternative fashion, music and art—to publish some of his student work. (Eventually, in 1990, Knight was appointed Commissioning Picture Editor for i-D, working alongside Terry Jones, former art director of British Vogue and co-founder of i-D Magazine.)
 
 
Robin Derrick—a 1984 graduate of Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, Mr. Derrick worked at i-D Magazine, also alongside Terry Jones, before becoming creative director of various other publications: The Face, then Italian Elle, French Glamour and Arena UK in 1986; he has been the creative director of British Vogue since 2001 (he had previously been creative director of Russian Vogue in 1998)—was working at i-D when a box of Knight’s (student) photographs arrived. Those early photographs must have made a profound impression on Mr. Derrick. As he recalled that crucial moment years later, “They were quite extraordinary. They were what came to be a Nick trademark, black-and-white portraits, all very mannered. The people never just sat there, they were cropped or contorted. Later I found out what that involved, when Nick came to do my portrait. He put a large wooden set square in the back of my jacket and propped me up on a stool(Quote: Rawsthorn, A., Vision Quest, 2007). Now in London, Knight worked with another Central Saint Martin's College graduate at i-D Magazine, the stylist/editor Simon Foxton (who began styling for i-D in 1984).
(Sources: Rawsthorn, A., Vision Quest, The New York Times, April 15, 2007;  Craven, J., Vogue | Nick Knight, May 11, 2011; Vogue | Robin Derrick, June 2011)
 
 

Image courtesy of: Gagapedia
 
 
(Styled by Anna Trevelyan & Brandon Maxwell)
Image courtesy of: Who is Scout?
 
 
(Video by Nick Knight & Ruth Hogben)
Image courtesy of: metatube
 
 

Vanity Fair ~ September, 2010
the above four images are courtesy of: SHOWstudio
 
 

The above two images: Vanity Fair ~ September, 2010
(Dress by Alexander McQueen)
The above two images are courtesy of: Fernando Irigoyen
(The above six images are stills from The Lady Gaga Sittings for Vanity Fair ~ A film by Nick Knight & Ruth Hogben | Soundtrack by Lukid)
 
  

Sleeve cover photograph for Lady Gaga's second studio album: “Born This Way
Image courtesy of: Fanpop




By the latter half of the 1980s and into the early 1990s, Knight was producing ground-breaking advertisement campaigns for such abstract and avant-garde creatives as the enigmatic, non-traditionalist Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto—(Yamamoto's art director, Marc Ascoli, had commissioned Knight for twelve successive catalogues “at a time when Yamamoto campaigns were among highly admired[Craven, J., Vogue | Nick Knight, 2011])—and the German designer Jil Sander, who is as known for her pared-down, minimalist aesthetic as she is for her past contentious battles with Patrizio Bertelli, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of the Prada Group—(Knight's standard of perfection is such that he once spent two months printing a Jil Sander brochure)—for whom he created “gorgeous, color-drenched images of great technical sophistication and labored over every stage of the photographic process.” (Quote: Rawsthorn, A., Vision Quest, 2007)


Executed entirely in black-and-white—“save for the red on the now-iconic red bustle image(Quote:  Bradley, L., AnOther, 2011)—Knight's Yamamoto (menswear and womenswear) catalogues, in collaboration with Marc Ascoli and graphic designer Peter Saville, were first published in 1986. At this juncture in his career, however,  Nick Knight decided to explore another venue of his creativity—a venue wholly unrelated to fashion. (Sources:  Rawsthorn, A., Vision Quest, The New York Times, April 15, 2007;  Craven, J., Vogue | Nick Knight, May 11, 2011; Bradley, L.,  In Pictures | AnOther, March 14, 2011)




Tatjana Patitz for Jil Sander ~ 1992
Above left image, courtesy of: Fashion To The Core | Above right image, courtesy of: nati-po

 




In Conversation, About Yohji Yamamoto
(Marc Ascoli, Nick Knight & Peter Seville on Yohji Yamamoto: a SHOWstudio film by Ruth Hogben)
Video courtesy of: SHOWstudio ~ YouTube




  
Red Bustle” ~ 1986
Beautiful in its graphic simplicity, this is an image remarkably free from pre or post-production.”
(Quote: In Pictures | AnOther, March 14, 2011)
 Image courtesy of: eyes → brain.


Above left image, courtesy of: Smudgetikka | Above right image, courtesy of: SHOWstudio


 
Naomi Campbell in “Red Coat” ~ 1986
Image courtesy of Asylum
 
 
 

When I’m producing a piece of work, I’m looking for something I haven’t seen before, and once I’ve produced it, I’ll want to see something else.” ~ Nick Knight
 

 
 
Susie Bick for Yohji Yamamoto's Autumn/Winter 1988 catalogue
Above left image, courtesy of: Dickensian Dandy | Above right image, courtesy of: Some/Things Magazine
 The above six photographs by Nick Knight form part of Yohji Yamamoto's (latter 1980s) catalogues
  
 


 
Spurred on by his interest in flora and plant life, (an interest possibly ignited by Knight's discovery of—and gained access to—an astonishing archived collection of six million specimens of pressed flowers and plants at the herbarium of London's Natural History Museum, where Knight and his wife spent three-and-a-half years viewing all the specimens), to begin work, in 1993, with David Chipperfield—the architect with whose firm Knight collaborated in the late 1980s and early 1990s to build the Knights' first house and with whom he would collaborate again to build a second house in the late 1990s and early 2000s—on Plant Power, a permanent installation at the Natural History Museum that explores the relationship between people and plants. During his time at the Museum, Knight also worked closely with its American curator, Dr. Sandra Knapp, Merit Researcher and presently head of Plants Division in the Life Sciences department.
 
 
The years of exploration and study at the Natural History Museum culminated in Flora (1997), a book co-authored with Dr. Knapp, containing forty-six of Knight's hand-chosen flowers and plants: “Some were like feathers of neon, breathtakingly delicate, others were like urban plans, architecturally precise… many were joyful splashes of color like children’s paintings, carefree, happy nonsense,” as Knight has described his images of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century pressed botanical specimens. (Quote: Llanos, M., Trendland, 2012)
 
 
November 1993 signalled Nick Knight's return to fashion photography. Linda Evangelista appeared on the cover of British Vogue—where i-D Magazine's Robin Derrick had been installed as the magazine's art director in 1993 before assuming the position as  its creative director from 2001 until 2011—marked Knight's first cover for the eminent British fashion publication. For that landmark cover, boldly proclaiming ‘Glamour is back’ in large white letters, Knight created fashion history by photographing Linda Evangelista against a red background—wearing a black dress by Karl Lagerfeld and brandishing a flash gun in a reinterpretation of the “hard-edged glamour of the early 1970s work of Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin and Chris von Wangenheim”—using ring-flash photography. With one fell swoop, Knight's British Vogue cover début marked the end of ‘grunge’ and heralded a return to glamour:  “a theme that Knight has since explored tirelessly, often with longstanding collaborators like Alexander McQueen and Björk [the Icelandic singer-songwriter,  composer, music producer, and occasional actress].” (Quotes: Rawsthorn, A., Vision Quest, 2007)
(Sources: SHOWstudio, undated; Llanos, M., Nick Knight: Flora, Trendland, October, 29, 2012;  Rawsthorn, A., Vision Quest, The New York Times, April 15, 2007;  Craven, J., Vogue | Nick Knight, May 11, 2011)
 
 
Fashion ebbs and flows, orbiting in revolutionary cycles. When Nick Knight decided to return to fashion photography late in 1993, little could he have realized it at the time but he had chosen a most propitious moment to do so: fashion was just on the cusp of one of its most glamorous and romantic phases. In hindsight, as the twentieth century drew to its twilight close, creatively speaking, the final decade proved to be one of the most fruitful—and imaginative—periods in fashion and Nick Knight's cameras were there to witness, capture and help propel it forward.
 

  
 
Mezzanine (1998)
Above top image, courtesy of: red lines | Above bottom image, courtesy of: Gentlemen Society
 
 

Image courtesy of: red lines
 
 “100th Window (2003)
Above left image, courtesy of: album art aesthetics | Above right image, courtesy of: Gorillaz Wiki
 
 

 “Collected (2006)
Above top image, courtesy of: LanZone | Above bottom image, courtesy of: last.fm
Massive Attack album sleeve covers
  
 
 
Nick Knight: A New Dimension
Video courtesy of: V&A ~ Vimeo
 
 

Video courtesy of: SHOWstudio ~ YouTube
    
 
  
Working behind the camera, I am waiting for the moment when the colours and shapes form themselves into a harmonious series of patterns. It’s about the purity of the note, like a musical composition. Everything is in discord until I hit the note, and the image feels correct.” ~ Nick Knight
 
  


True ‘fashion moments’ rarely occur, but they do happen. While it is difficult to convey in words the excitement of such ephemeral ‘moments’— whether  they take the form of an extraordinary collection by an established, veteran designer or, more thrillingly, the début of a breakthrough collection by an exceptionally talented designer newly arrived on the scene—video footage, contemporaneous interviews, first-hand accounts and reviews become the most reliable sources of insight into such episodes. What sets the 1990s apart from other decades is its witnessing to a series, one after another, of exceptional ‘fashion moments,’ most of which—though not exclusively—were generated by two of Knight's compatriots (and that decade's dominant and most visible features): John Galliano and Alexander McQueen. To comprehend and put that era into perspective—and to align it with Nick Knight's collaborations with Galliano and McQueen in order to appreciate his involvement in both designers' careers at that period of time, especially the role played by designers and photographer in the re-invigoration—and radicalization—of the once-considered antiquated institution of haute couture—a deviating overview of some of the keynote events of the period, and those leading to it—including some of the key, central players—is in order.

 
By the mid-1980s—with the exception of a few memorable collections (such as certain of Yves Saint Laurent's more noteworthy collections, for example)—much of the direction in fashion lay not in the hands of haute couture creators but engendered, instead, by the collections of  such forward-thinking prêt-à-porter designers as Claude Montana, Thierry Mugler, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Azzedine Alaïa, Rei Kawakubo (for Comme des Garçons), Yohji Yamamoto and Vivienne Westwood; in terms of excitement—if not prestige—prêt-à-porter undoubtedly outflanked the more formulaic haute couture. In fact, by the 1980s, the very concept of haute couture had become so musty and institutionalized that many questioned its viability and relevance to modern times; it was, in effect, in a general state of stasis: if the death knells of haute couture were not being sounded outright (whether they were yet to be fully heard or refused to even be acknowledged), predictions of its imminent demise were loudly and unambiguously voiced. (In the late 1980s, a new, conceptual designer—and former Jean-Paul Gaultier intern—the Belgian Martin Margiela established his own House, Maison Martin Margiela, in 1988, bringing an element of raw ‘desconstructivism,’ arguably the polar opposite of haute couture, to fashion. Since then, many of these same designers have either dabbled in haute couture or have permanently established their own eponymous couture lines, including Jean-Paul Gaultier, Martin Margiela, Thierry Mugler and Azzedine Alaïa.)
 
 
Haute couture was given new life—and hope—in 1987 when former House of Jean Patou creative director, “credited with bringing new vigor to the couture,” the ebullient Arles-born designer Christian Lacroix—then acknowledged as a veritable “savior of the couture world(Quotes: Morris, B., The New York Times, 1986)—launched his maison de couture at 73 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, situated in the Eighth Arrondissement, to an appreciative audience and to thunderous acclaim; M. Lacroix was the first couturier to do so under his own name in more than two decades. (Christian Lacroix had been at Jean Patou, “a somewhat stodgy couture house still coasting comfortably on the sales from its renowned perfume, Joy,”  since in 1981 [Quote: Donovan, C., The New York Times, 1987]—where he was credited with introducing “a new gaiety and irreverence to the couture scene [Quote: Polan B., & Tredre, R., The Great Fashion Designers, 2009:45]—and where his predecessors included Angelo Tarlazzi, Chanel's designer since 1983, Karl Lagerfeld, and Dior's Marc Bohan; Lacroix had left the House of Patou in January of 1987 in pursuit of his own House. After the début of M. Lacroix's first collection, consisting of sixty ensembles shown on Sunday, July 26th, 1987—which, incidentally, was the fortieth anniversary year of Christian Dior’s own ninety-piece début collection, shown on six mannequins in February 1947,  which launched his voluminous, and revolutionary, ‘New Look’—review headlines were typically ecstatic. The Sunday Times, for instance, excitedly proclaimed, “Vive Lacroix! There's been nothing like it in 25 years[Quote: Craven, J., Christian Lacroix, 2011], while another headline—by Bernadine Morris of The New York Times—loudly trumpeted,  “For Lacroix, a Triumph; For Couture, a Future.” [Quote: Donovan, C., The New York Times, 1987])
 
 
But the beguiling allure of haute couture is no surety of profitability; more often than not, the enormous expenditure involved in producing a couture collection (and presenting it) nullifies any such hope. Even with financial backing by the shrewd Bernard Arnault, presently the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy)—France’s (and probably the world’s) pre-eminent luxury products conglomerate and parent-company of such recognisable brands as  Moët & Chandon, the world's largest champagne House, Hennessy cognac, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Donna Karan, Loewe, Marc Jacobs, Céline, Givenchy, Christian Dior and Pucci (among a wide range of other brands)—who, as chairman of the French company Financière Agache in 1987, had invested $8 million (in currency value of the day) to launch the House of Lacroix; the couture segment of the business never made any profit or even managed to break even. (Initially, the House of Lacroix began life exclusively as an haute couture establishment—the Prêt-à-Porter and Luxe lines, along with perfumes, materialized later. In 2005, LVMH sold the Lacroix label to the Falic Group, owner of the retail chain Duty Free Americas. According to The Economist, dated July 9 th, 2009, in 2008 the House of Lacroix lost €10 million—$15 million—on €30 million worth of sales.) By May of 2009, the House of Lacroix had filed for bankruptcy;  a few months later, on Tuesday, July 7th, 2009, Christian Lacroix presented his last couture show of just twenty-four pieces—twenty-two years after his début collection.
 
 
After creating costumes for the theatre for the last few years, M. Lacroix was asked to design a small, ‘one-of’ eighteen-piece homage couture collection by Diego Della Valle—the Italian entrepreneur, founder of Tod’s and, presently, owner of the Schiaparelli label—for the launch (and interpretation) of the recently-revived Elsa Schiaparelli brand. The collection, which was not intended to be reproduced, was showcased on Monday, July the 1st, 2013 (the second day of the six-day Autumn-Winter 2013/2014 Haute Couture Week—a week inaugurated by the Atelier Versace collection, shown on the evening of Sunday, June the 30th), at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs—where M. Lacroix presented his last collection back in 2009—and attended by Azzedine Alaïa, Jean-Paul Gaultier and David Downton, the fashion illustrator; as of January 2014, Marco Zanini has been the creative director of the House of Schiaparelli. (Watch Christian Lacroix: A Return To Couture, a video interview conducted by Suzy Menkes with M. Lacroix for The New York Times.)
(Sources: Morris, B., In Paris, Making The Couture Fun, The New York Times, August 2, 1986;  Polan B., & Tredre, R., The Great Fashion Designers, 2009; Dior Finance, undated; Donovan, C., The Swagger of Christian Lacroix, The New York Times, September 6, 1987; Horyn, C., Christian Lacroix Returns to Salute Elsa, On The Runway | The New York Times, July 1, 2013)
 
  
 
  
Daphne Guinness in a Nick Knight film for Printemps
(Guinness collaborated with Nick Knight on five window displays at the Boulevard Haussmann flagship department store)
Image courtesy of: WWD
  
 

 
Department store windows are now becoming a really exciting space to articulate fashion. One of the reasons I started SHOWstudio is that fashion can now be shown in many different ways, and actually magazines are probably the least interesting place to see it—it doesn’t move, you can’t interact with it and it’s three months out of date. Fashion stores like Printemps, Barneys, Joyce, Topshop or Selfridges are all spaces that realize that, actually, they have a very legitimate place in the fashion world.”
~ Nick Knight
 
 

  
The first of the 1980s generation of prêt-à-porter designers transitioned to the realm of haute couture when he presented his first couture collection on January 23rd, 1990 (attended by an audience that included front-row luminaries such as the aristocratic former face-of-Chanel model  Inès de la Fressange, Grace Jones, the musical legend and personality, and Jean-Paul Gaultier, all eager for a glimpse of modern-day—and the future possibilities of—haute couture). In an effort to revive a lacklustre label—a formula that had already proved to be successful with the Houses of Jean Patou and Chanel—Claude Montana was named creative director of the House of Lanvin in the autumn of 1989, having already refused an offer from Christian Dior who, after the dismissal of its chief designer, Marc Bohan, had been searching for a new creative director; the choice eventually settled on the Italian designer Gianfranco Ferré whose tenure extended from 1989 to 1996—it was a controversial choice: the idea of a non-Frenchman joining the unassailable ranks of haute couture at such an intrinsically French couture House did not bode well with the French. (Clarins acquired  a  majority stake in the House of Lanvin in 1989, which, at the time, had been under the creative direction of Maryll Lanvin, wife of Jeanne Lanvin’s grand-nephew. Maryll had begun as prêt-à-porter designer for Lanvin in 1981 before also becoming its couture designer two years later in 1983, a position she held until 1989; it was Clarins—along with Lanvin president Léon Bressler—who decided to hire M. Montana.) Although Montana's salary and length of his unprecedented, no-strings-attached contract were undisclosed at the time, it was made clear that he would only be responsible for the haute couture division of Lanvin and not the prêt-à-porter line (designed, at that point, by two other French designers, Eric Bergère and Adeline André).
 
 
The House of Claude Montana began in 1979—(having already worked as a freelance designer for several other labels, the introverted Montana produced his first real collection in 1977)—and by the mid- to late-1980s, Montana had developed and refined his design aesthetic to articulated, laser-sharp precision tailoring with dramatic architectural—even futuristic—silhouettes that immediately distinguished his designs and set him apart from other prêt-à-porter designers of the era; along with Thierry Mugler, Claude Montana created looks and silhouettes that came to epitomize the assertive “power” dressing in the 1980s and 1990s. (By the time of his appointment as haute couture designer for Lanvin, M. Montana had already, in fact, carved for himself a reputation not only as one of Paris's leading innovative designers, but one of its consummate and most accomplished tailors as well.)


Though short-lived, M. Montana's two-year tenure at the House of Lanvin marked the apogee of his career. While his début collection for Lanvin was generally not well-received, his ensuing haute couture collections for the House, however, were not without merit: for two consecutive years—in 1990 and 1991 (for his second and third couture collections, termed as “a remarkable tour de force for the 40-year-old designer whose Lanvin debut last year was panned by many press and fashion observers” [Quote: Patterson, S., Associated Press, 1991])—M. Montana was awarded the prestigious Le Dé d'Or de la Haute Couture (“Golden Thimble Award”), presented at Paris's Hôtel de Ville—the first and only designer to win the award, established in 1976 under the leadership of Pierre-Yves Guillen and distributed by fashion journalists, twice consecutively. (In contrast, Gianfranco Ferré, who accepted the post at Dior that Montana had declined, was awarded the Dé d’Or for his first haute couture collection for the House.)
 
 
With Claude Montana's last collection for the House and his departure in 1992, the Lanvin haute couture line—in spite of critical success—was discontinued in 1993. After several designers had come and gone, in 2001, the Moroccan-born Israeli designer Alber Elbaz—born in Casablanca in 1961 before moving to Tel Aviv, when he was ten, M. Elbaz considers himself an Israeli—was hired as creative director by the House's new owner, Shaw-Lan Wang, a Chinese media magnate who purchased a controlling stake in Lanvin from L’Oréal and made it a private company once again.
 
 
After he left the House of Lanvin, Montana focused once again on his own eponymous label. But although he continued to create beautifully-tailored collections, by 1995, however, the Claude Montana aesthetic had begun to slip out of favour; he eventually filed for bankruptcy in 1997. (The Claude Montana brand name was sold in 1998—the investor being Jacques Berger, formerly of Nina Ricci who, along with two partners, had paid $670,000 for 51-percent of the ailing company. While part of the sale agreement stipulated that Montana forgo the rights to his name, the designer was permitted to  maintain the right to design for the House for another ten years. A more affordable diffusion line was launched in late 1998: Montana BLU. A women's fragrance, also by the same name, Montana blu, followed in 2001).
(Sources: Buck, G., Lanvin Chooses Claude Montana, Chicago Tribune, October 22, 1989; Orth, M., Death by Design, Vanity Fair, September 1996; Bogart, A., A Chic Outsider, The Los Angeles Times, January 26, 1990;  Lanvin, Voguepedia, undated; Patterson, S., Lanvin's Montana Wins Golden Thimble; Couture Flourishes, Associated Press, January 31, 1991; Martin, R., Fashion Designer Encyclopedia | Claude Montana, undated; Mulhall, A., Fashion Archive: Claude Montana, Dazed Digital, 2010; Christian Dior Finances, undated; Spindler, A. M., Investing in Haute Couture's Lower-Brow Future, The New York Times, January 22, 1996)
 

But in one of those destined coincidences, just as Claude Montana's star was waning, another's was emphatically ascending. Fashion was entering a new, romantic era and its architect was not a Frenchman but a Briton—not a Parisian but a daring (‘club kid’) Londoner. In a breathtaking way, the ‘Galliano era’ was poised to be launched.
 

 
  
John Galliano
(Portraits by Paolo Roversi)
Above left image, courtesy of: © Pleasurephoto Room | Above right image, courtesy of: SHOWstudio
  

 
 
Winged Fortune may favour the brave, rewarding tenacity along with perseverance, but—as many a conqueror's life and career will clearly attest—Fortune is also arbitrary; for who, after all, is able to accurately divine the capricious nature—the vagaries—of Fortune? Janus-like and much as fickle, two-faced Fortune can, without rhyme or reason, turn from ally to foe and, just as suddenly as she bestows it, withdraw her favour with the swiftness of a blink of an eye—benevolent but vacillating Fortune can, unhesitatingly, metamorphose into the equally swift-footed but fiercely vengeful Nemesis.
 
 
British designer John Galliano may not have waged wars or won military campaigns on the battlefield, but his career—in all its brilliance and blunders—is as spectacular, with its vaulting pinnacles of unimagined success and plunging depths of struggles and loss, as that of any vanquisher; it is a testament to the inconstancy of Fortune. A talent of his calibre—and aplomb—is not only unique in the annals of fashion history, appearing, perhaps, once in a generation, but magnificent in its scope: repeatedly, John Galliano's career—in conjunction with that of Alexander McQueen's—was responsible for so many ‘fashion moments’ in the 1990s, and extending well into the first decade of the twenty-first century.
 
 

 
Past, Present & Couture
(Photographs by Nick Knight)
The above two images are courtesy of: SHOWstudio
 
 

 
John Galliano's legacy will be that as the designer who dared women to dream. Born Juan Carlos Antonio Galliano Guillén in Gibraltar on November 28th, 1960, John Galliano emigrated to Battersea, an ethnic suburb of South London, with his family—his parents and two sisters—in 1966 at the age of six, a move that turned out to be a massive culture shock for the young and sensitive Galliano (“I will never forget the change in colors, clothes, and culture,” he informed Vogue in a 2009 interview [Quote: Voguepedia, undated]), whose quiet but stern father worked as a plumber, and who was bullied and teased by local Lambeth boys. Not considered an outstanding student by any means, it was only when he reached design school—Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, one of the world’s most highly-regarded art and fashion schools—that Galliano, finding himself in the company of like-minded, creative and artistic individuals, began to flourish. His 1984 Degree collection, entitled ‘Les Incroyables’—(inspired by Robespierre and named after the dandies of the French Revolution)—was received with wide acclaim and, for the first time, set to a soundtrack by deejay Jeremy Healy (former member of the 1980s New Wave pop band Haysi Fantayzee and one of Galliano’s closest friends—the two had met in 1984—and with whom Galliano would collaborate on future presentations—for his own shows as well as those for Dior—that spanned the next twenty-eight years of his long career); indeed, Galliano's entire graduate collection was bought in its entirety by Joan Burstein for her department boutique windows, Browns (founded in 1970 and still located at 24-27 South Molton Street. “I had to literally wheel my collection up the street to their shop,” Galliano told Michael Specter of The New Yorker in 2003. “I couldn’t even afford to put the clothes in a cab. And they put one of the coats in the window and it was bought by Diana Ross[Quote: Specter, M., The Fantasist, 2003]).

 
Even at school, the Galliano trait—intensive study (“With intensity of interest goes intensity of research,” as Nikolaus Pevsner, the art historian and scholarly author of An Outline of European Architecture, affirms [Pelican Books, seventh ed., 1963:446])—was apparent: he immersed himself, as he would for every one of his future collections, in meticulous and time-consuming research by browsing through fashion history books at  the Victoria and Albert Museum, for instance, sketching endlessly, gaining knowledge of periodic costume and drawing inspiration from historical as well as fictional personalities; outré characters and a scintillating series of personalities such as Anna Piaggi (the uniquely and entirely outlandish Italian fashion editor, fashion journalist, and collector who passed away in August of 2012); Josephine Bonaparte; Nancy Cunard; Shanghai Lily (Marlene Dietrich's seductive, central character in Josef von Sternberg's 1932 film, Shanghai Express—a film which also co-starred Anna May Wong and won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography); Blanche DuBois (the fictional character in Tennessee Williams' 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning play A Streetcar Named Desire); Pocahontas (the Native American Princess and daughter of a Powhatan chief  of the Algonquian Indians—the Powhatans—whose Native Indian name was Matoaka); cinema goddesses Gloria SwansonTheda Bara (an anagram for ‘Arab Death’ but whose birth name was Theodosia Burr Goodman; Theda Bara, in her breakthrough role in the 1915 film A Fool There Was, was the first silent screen ‘vamp’), and the intrepid Marlene Dietrich; Misia Sert (a Polish pianist and muse to such artists as Vuillard, Bonnard, Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir; Misia was also one of Coco Chanel's closest female friends as well as that of Serge Diaghilev's); Kiki de Montparnasse (the actress, night-club performer, model and artists' libertine muse, whose real name was Alice Ernestine Prin); and the exceptionally fabled Marchesa Luisa Casati—all of whom have, in their turn, been Galliano muses who have inspired him, the reference points—the axis—around whom some of his most memorable collections have revolved. Soon after leaving Central Saint Martins with first-class honours in fashion design (in 1984), John Galliano launched his own label (also in 1984); with the backing of Johann Brun, a young entrepreneur, he presented his first eponymous collection on dress forms in the autumn of 1984. 
(Sources: Alexander, E., Who's Who: John Galliano, Vogue, May 11, 2011; Voguepedia, undated; Specter, M., The FantasistThe New Yorker, September 22, 2003)
 
 
   
 
Top: haute milliner Stephen Jones | Bottom: John Galliano with models
(Portraits are by Nick Knight ~ 1985)
Both images are courtesy of: National Portrait Gallery




John Galliano was not only an habitué of London's nightclub scene but a by-product of it. London in the mid- to late-1980s was a defining, highly creative period of time for Galliano and his friends, many of whom he either met at some fashion party or at one of the City's heady (and hedonistic) nightclubs—sources of inspiration, artistic expression, gender-bending exploits, outrageous behaviour, and rival creativity. One such spot was the legendary (and notorious) Taboo, Leigh Bowery's Leicester Square nightclub, opened in 1985. (Possessed of a fertile mind, the Australian-born Bowery, who—in his January 5th, 1995, obituary in The Independent—has been described by Philip Hoare as “a perverse comic-book clown to a post-punk generation careering through the myriad fashion metamorphoses of the 1980s,” was a self-created performance artist, club impresario, nightlife fixture, designer, and creative genius whose aesthetic sensibilities would surface again and again years afterwards not only in Galliano's later collections for Dior but also in McQueen's and other designers' as well. Vivienne Westwood, for example, once boldly declared that Bowery and Yves Saint Laurent were the two most important designers she knew.)  “Originally an underground party, Taboo quickly became London's answer to Studio 54. Taboo was known for its defiance of sexual convention, and its embrace of what Bowery calledpolysexualidentities.”
(Quote: Biography: A&E Networks, 2013)




(Portrait by Steven Meisel)
(Fashion's MavericksVogue ~ September 1994)
Image courtesy of: The Place




The triptych team of John Galliano, Stephen Jones (the haute milliner), and the late Steven Robinson, Galliano's acknowledged indispensable right-hand man until his untimely death in 2007—allegedly from a cocaine overdose—were all ‘club kids’ who “collided with each other on a night out and became life partners, colleagues and friends for life. They probably caught their first glimpse of each other at some fabulous Eighties fashion party in Soho, which was probably hosted by Leigh Bowery, and which was probably filled with the kind of home-made looks/make-up still referenced by the trio when designing to this day(Quote: Reardon, B., POP Magazine, Winter 2007). (Jones and Robinson had met when Stephen Jones was invited by Shirley Hex, the instructor who had first taught him the art of hat-making in the early 1980s, to judge a student hat design competition at the Epsom School of Art and Design; Steven Robinson, one of the competing students, was awarded the winner of the contest by Jones. Steven Robinson began apprenticing as a design student with John Galliano in 1988, an internship that began, humbly, with Robinson sewing buttons.) But before Galliano—and his close-knit team, which, at the time, also included Amanda Harlech, née Grieve (presently, creative consultant at the House of Chanel, having been poached by Karl Lagerfeld in 1996. Lady Harlech first met Galliano in 1984, then a struggling designer still in the process of establishing his eponymous label in London, when she was a junior fashion editor at Harpers & Queen. Their first collaboration was on Malcolm McLaren's 1984 album Fans, when she requested him to help create the cover for the album's hit single Madam Butterfly—for which he covered a big fan in bits of Chinese newspaper clippings to act as a form of ‘skirt’ to help conceal the model's nudity. Amanda, who worked freelance for him for many years, eventually came to feel that “her earlier willingness to work for next to nothing was taken for granted during the deal-making [the negotiations between M. Arnault and Galliano for his position at Dior] and went on to join Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel. The move initially enraged Galliano,” Ingrid Sischy writes [Quote: Sischy, I., Vanity Fair, July 2013])—could conquer Paris, there were the difficult years to struggle through. (Sources: Hoare, P., The Independent, January 5, 1995; Biography: A&E Networks, 2013; Reardon, B., Fowl Feather Friends,  POP Magazine, Winter 2007: Issue No. 17; Ramdani, N. & Allen, P., John Galliano's British right-hand-man died from cocaine overdose, The Daily Mail, August 22, 2011; Sischy, I., Galliano in the Wilderness, Vanity Fair, July 2013)
 
 
  

 
 
The gifted & prolific Leigh Bowery ~ (1961-1994)
Self-created avant-garde performance artist, designer, 1980s fashion celebrity, London club personality/impresario, authentic style icon & absolute creative genius
(Portraits by Nick Knight)
 
Above top image (1992), courtesy of: Art Blart
Above left image (1987), courtesy of: Sgustok Magazine | Above right image (1987), courtesy of: Anatomika 
Bottom left image (1987), courtesy of: Taboo | Interview Magazine | Bottom right image (1987), courtesy of: Paige's of Fashion
 

 
  
Launching a successful fashion label/brand is—as it always has been—a stressful, complicated and labour-intensive process fraught with frustration, especially for an emerging young designer in need of (and reliant upon) financial backing. This is a truth that John Galliano experienced first-hand in the first several years of his career. But where others may have wavered (by self-doubt) or abandoned hope, Galliano's intrinsic love of dressmaking (and innate talent)—along with his steely tenacity and conviction in himself and his métier—would stand him in good stead, helping him to not only survive those difficult years but buoy him triumphantly through to the achievement of spectacular goals beyond his remotest aspirations.
 
 
Known for staging flamboyant, romantically-charged shows informed by historical references and, besides the fact that his talent was clearly apparent from the beginning, or, that his collections during London Fashion Week were received with critical acclaim—(he made his London Fashion Week runway début in 1985 and, two years later, was named ‘British Designer of the Year’ in 1987 for the first time; Galliano would be named ‘British Designer of the Year’ several more times: 1988, 1994, 1995 and again in 1997)—still, Galliano was bedevilled by financial difficulties and setbacks; up to this point,  his career was all ‘fits and starts.’ His original backer, Johann Brun, with whom he had been since 1984, withdrew soon after the 1986 Autumn-Winter collections, shown in March; Johann Brun was replaced a few months later—in July of that year, 1986—by a Danish entrepreneur and investor, Peder Bertelsen, and his Aguecheek group. As with Johann Brun, Galliano's financial relationship with Peder Bertelsen endured for only a few years, until November of 1991. Yet another new backer, Fayçal Amor of France’s Société Amor, was found; Fayçal Amor agreed to manufacture and distribute his line in August of 1992. At this point in his career, Galliano made a definitive decision: along with his small coterie of friends, he decided to start afresh and relocate—across the English Channel, in Paris, the world's undisputed fashion capital. (In fact, Galliano first arrived in Paris in 1990, where he showed in March during the Autumn-Winter 1990 collections, but it was not until 1992 that Galliano permanently emigrated to the City of Light.)
 
 
I  had to go to Paris to continue in my career. There really wasn’t a choice. I was not progressing and I was not getting better” Galliano has recalled of his decision to move to Paris. But even in Paris, there were struggles and difficulties to be faced. “We were producing the most beautiful things, but for dinner we were eating a can of beans on a Bunsen burner,” as he recalled of that impoverished period of his life. Recognition—and (practical) assistance—first came in the hulking form of André Leon Talley, Vogue’s former—and wandering—contributing editor. Horrified at what he found when he came to visit Galliano at his atelier, then situated near the Bastille, Talley first began by purchasing fast-food meals from McDonald’s “and basically fed us to keep us going (Quotes: Specter, M., The Fantasist, 2003). More importantly, Talley directed Anna Wintour's attention, the dictatorial and powerful editor-in-chief of American Vogue, to Galliano’s work; Wintour not only loved what she saw, but she quickly became his most fervent supporter. “Probably rather naïvely,” Wintour told Ingrid Sischy for her Vanity Fair article, Galliano in the Wilderness, in 2013. “I hadn’t realized how hand-to-mouth John’s existence was at that point. It wasn’t until I talked to André about John’s need for financial investment that I realized. I think it’s a peculiarly English thing how these very inventive, creative, brilliant designers can create this magic with nothing[;] I was more than happy to help because it’s very unusual to see a talent of that magnitude. We wanted to get his work out there.” (Quote: Sischy, I., Vanity Fair, July 2013)


Before I knew it, Anna had called the collection to New York for a picture shoot,” Galliano recalled. “Then she invited me to come, too.” In New York, Galliano attended a series of social events and dinner parties comprised of “socialites, all these fantastic people, and I was suddenly meeting bankers from Paine Webberme meeting bankers and them wanting to talk to me. Can you imagine that?” It was largely thanks to Anna Wintour—and her wide-ranging contacts—that, at some point in 1994, new financing for Galliano was secured with John A. Bult, chairman of the Paine Webber banking group, who assumed manufacturing from Fayçal Amor. (Quotes: Specter, M., The Fantasist, 2003) 
(Sources: Voguepedia, undated; Specter, M., The FantasistThe New Yorker, September 22, 2003; Sischy, I., Galliano in the Wilderness, Vanity Fair, July 2013)
 


 
Image courtesy of: I the reflection of fashion
 
 
Christy Turlington (above left) & Kate Moss (top & above right)
There were, I think, two touches of pink.” John Galliano has said of his 1994 watershed collection, staged at São Schlumberger's Paris mansion.  “Kate and Christy had pink outfits. Those were the only colors in the entire show. We just didn’t have time for anything else.” (Quote: The Fantasist, 2003)
Above left image, courtesy of: Corbis | Above right image, courtesy of: Justin Teodoro
 
 

 
In spite of the fact that, having already shown a few highly-acclaimed collections in Paris—including the 1993 (fictional) “Princess Lucretia” Spring-Summer 1994 collection, an Anna Karenina character who escapes chaotic Russia at the fall of the Romanov Dynasty and finds herself on the shores of Scotland; it was the collection which had caught the attention of André Leon Talley in the first place—by early 1994, Galliano was still at a crossroads. It was Anna Wintour who, once again, came to the rescue, lending her invaluable support.
 
 
Without sufficient funds to either pull a collection together for autumn 1994 or the venue in which to present it, Galliano originally decided to forgo the season and not show during the Autumn-Winter 1994 Paris Fashion Week. When Anna Wintour heard of his decision, she believed it to be detrimental to Galliano's career to bypass even a single season—so convinced was she of his talent (“a talent of that magnitude”)—that she immediately despatched André Leon Talley to Paris to not only convince Galliano of the imprudence of his decision but to rescind and present a collection; the other of Talley's two-pronged mission was to secure a venue—(once Galliano had successfully been persuaded to produce and mount a collection)—for the all-important show as well. More crucially, Galliano needed to convince the bankers—Paine Webber—(as well as buyers) that he was not only a serious designer but worth the investment in his burgeoning—if uncertain—business.
 
 
Once in Paris, André Leon Talley arranged a lunch with Saõ Schlumberger—the Portuguese-born Parisian socialite and wife of Pierre Schlumberger, the oil-industry billionaire—at which John Galliano was also present.  At the end of the lunch, Saõ—who owned a dilapidated eighteenth-century hôtel particulier—was asked by Talley to lend Galliano her unused mansion as a venue for the presentation of his Autumn-Winter 1994 collection; charmed, she agreed. With Saõ persuaded, and with the Autumn-Winter collections only three weeks away, Galliano and his team immediately set to work.
 
 
Without much time or money—John A. Bult had advanced him a small amount of funds with which to stage a little show—to order fabrics, Galliano settled on a single bolt of black satin-backed crêpe-de-Chine, using both sides—the matte and the shiny—of the fabric: “I made the dresses from black satin-backed crêpe, because it was cheap and I could use the matte and the shiny sides to make it look like there was more to it than there was,” he recalled back in September 2003 in an interview with Michael Specter for his article, The Fantasist, in The New Yorker. “There were, I think, two touches of pink. Kate and Christy had pink outfits. Those were the only colors in the entire show. We just didn’t have time for anything else.” Stephen Jones, who had already collaborated with Galliano since the Spring-Summer 1994 “Princess Lucretia” collection the previous season—it had been Jones's first commission to produce head-wear for Galliano—was once again called upon to create “a series of hats that looked like Möbius strips and worked as a perfect complement to Galliano’s austere dresses.” (Quotes: Specter, M., The Fantasist, 2003) (Sources: Colacello, B., The Wow of São, Vanity Fair, September 22, 2010; Specter, M., The FantasistThe New Yorker, September 22, 2003;  Sischy, I., Galliano in the Wilderness, Vanity Fair, July 2013; Reardon, B., Fowl Feather Friends,  POP Magazine, Winter 2007: Issue No. 17)
 

  
 
Nadja Auermann
(Photograph by Steven Meisel for American Vogue ~ 1994)
With her moulded felt cloche shadowing an eye and pinned with a tremblant diamond cow-parsley sprig, Nadja Auermann, slinking down the stairs of a crumbling Hôtel Particulier in Paris for the John Galliano show, defined the fashion moment.” ~ Hamish Bowles, American Vogue
Image courtesy of: Fashion Manifesto
  
 

 
The Schlumbergers' Hôtel de Luzy mansion, a slightly faded hôtel particulier (originally built by the French architect Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin for Mademoiselle Dorothée Luzy Dotinville—of the Comédie Française—between 1767-1770 and which, in its heyday, had been decorated by Valerian Rybar, the interior designer who, at the height of his career in 1972, was considered to be the “world’s most expensive decorator”)—their five-story Parisian edifice situated on the Rue Férou, very near the Luxembourg Gardens (as well as the Musée du Luxembourg) which had once been the home of Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord’s mistress—was chosen as the site for Galliano's presentation. The gently derelict Hôtel de Luzy—which, having been for sale on the real estate market at the time, lay empty—was the perfect setting for Galliano's tiny, tour-de-force collection of seventeen, perfect pieces, for Autumn-Winter 1994/1995. The nearly all-black collection (with only a couple of ensembles in pink for touches of colour), inspired by the Japanese kimono (with its erotic emphasis on the nape of the neck), and the glamour of Golden-Age Hollywood with the added discipline of 1940s tailoring, showcased Galliano's definitive mastery of the challenging bias-cut (a difficult technique by which fabric is cut diagonally—on a 45° angle—across the straight-of-grain—the weft and warp—thereby giving it not only a stretch, but a pliancy as well as the ability to cling, moulding itself to the body's contours and curves)—the legacy of Madame Vionnet who first introduced the technique to couture dressmaking in the 1920s, developing and perfecting it to a sublime artistic level—effortlessly meshed the seductive sensuality of the Oriental kimono with the supple fluidity—and feline sinuosity—of the European bias. (As with Madame Vionnet before him, the bias-cut became a defining signature—the keystone—of John Galliano's career which he worked and re-worked endlessly but also to tremendous effect.) (Quote: McKay, J., Then: Sutton Place, New York Magazine, June 11, 2013) (Sources: Colacello, B., The Wow of São, Vanity Fair, September 22, 2010; Specter, M., The FantasistThe New Yorker, September 22, 2003; Sischy, I., Galliano in the Wilderness, Vanity Fair, July 2013)
 
  
 

Shalom Harlow
An interlude between Lieutenant Pinkerton and Madame Butterfly.
(Photograph by Steven Meisel | Quote by John Galliano: Fashion's MavericksVogue ~ September 1994)
Image courtesy of: The Overflowing Stash
  
 

 
The ‘moment’ for which John Galliano had been waiting for unfolded on a weekend morning—over twenty years ago—in March of 1994. Armed with rusty keys to the uninhabited Schlumberger mansion as invitations—Galliano had gotten about five-hundred keys (to which were attached hand-written tags with the season, location and time of the show: John Galliano, Autumn Winter 94-95, 6 Rue Férou, 75006, Paris, Saturday, 05 March, 9h 30) and sent them out to invited guests—invitees arrived at the Hôtel de Luzy to find the once-vacant and abandoned Schlumberger residence suggestively transformed into an intimate maison de couture salon reminiscent of elegant, bygone mid-twentieth century salon days, with little gilt chairs (with the odd, tufted-leather ottoman and Victorian settee positioned here and there) for guests to perch on. (And, as if to underscore the poetic romanticism of the collection and its decrepit setting, a broken chandelier was placed on the living-room floor along with upturned chairs and unmade beds; hand-written love letters, “that we had written ourselves”—as Galliano recalled—were also scattered around the rooms for atmospheric purposes. [Quote: Specter, M., The Fantasist, 2003])
 
 
As with everyone involved with the show—the make-up artists, the hairstylists, Stephen Jones's headdress creations and hats, Jeremy Healy's contributing soundtracks—a bevy of the world's most celebrated (and most sought-after) models of the time (ornamented with borrowed diamond jewellery by Harry Winston, René Boivin, and Fred) all worked without charge, for friendship rather than for payment—Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Kate Moss, Michelle Hicks, Carla Bruni, Helena Christensen, Nadja Auermann, Shalom Harlow (and others)—coquettishly meandered through the once-vacant rooms of the Schlumberger mansion, the parquet floors of which had been strewn with dried leaves and rose petals, and flooded with dry ice, “so that you could see the texture of the air.” (Quote: Specter, M., The Fantasist, 2003)
(Sources: Specter, M., The FantasistThe New Yorker, September 22, 2003; Sischy, I., Galliano in the Wilderness, Vanity Fair, July 2013)
 
  

 
Christy Turlington
The ultimate in tongue-and-cheek bubble-gum glamour.
(Photograph by Steven Meisel | Quote by John Galliano: Fashion's MavericksVogue ~ September 1994)
Image courtesy of: The Moustached King
 

  
 
Though tiny, this seminal, obi-accented capsule collection marked the pivotal point in Galliano's career; it also marked a paradigm shift not only in Galliano's career but—with the ‘Galliano vision’ unequivocally established, emphasized, and sustained in the subsequent collections which followed thereafter—it had a profound effect on the fashion landscape as a whole, re-imagining it in more ways than one. The importance of this collection, therefore,  cannot be underestimated. Historically speaking, as a ‘fashion moment,’ it was immediately recognized (and acknowledged) as one of the greatest—it was, and remains, nothing short of an epoch-defining event. (To place its significance into proper perspective, Michael Specter  of  The New Yorker was by no means exaggerating when he correctly pointed out that the show “became perhaps the most celebrated fashion event since Dior introduced his New Look.”) As the American fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, who appears to have attended the show, also remarked in The Fantasist, Michael Specter's 2003 profile feature on John Galliano for  The New Yorker, “It was really a watershed moment in modern fashion history. We all knew we were seeing something that had not been seen before. The clothes were sublime, simple and feminine. You wanted to wear every single dress.” More importantly for Galliano and his team, a torrent of orders began flooding in following the presentation; the onus was now on Galliano, who “barely had the means to fill them [the store orders]” (as Michael Specter has written), to take advantage of his ‘moment’ and deliver the goods. “This was it,” Galliano recalled in the same New Yorker article. “I could not fuck up or make a mistake. It had to be a very professional business or I was never getting another chance to make a dress.” (Quotes: Specter, M., The Fantasist, 2003) (To watch the collection in its entirety, click here to view all three videos.)
 
 
Season followed season and—with the security of the financial backing of John A. Bult (Paine Webber)—as he moved from triumph to triumph and gained momentum by degrees, Galliano's shows became ever more elaborate: the sets more expensive; their fantastical narratives more detailed and enchanting; the clothes all the more refined and sophisticated (as can be witnessed in the designer's Spring-Summer 1995 and Autumn-Winter 1995 presentations. There is also noticeable, in these shows, a markedly strong visual reference to the refined glamour—and cogent chic—of the 1950s and to the heightened aesthetic and romantically feminine silhouettes of Dior, in particular: “I wanted to fuse the Japonism of the Edwardian period in 1910 with the 1950's technique and construction,” he was quoted as saying, following his Spring-Summer 1995 show, presented on Wednesday, October 12th, 1994. “And I looked to Dior for construction. I always like to study the old masters to see how they put things together[Quote: Spindler, A. M., The New York Times, 1994]). One effect of these collections was that they attracted the attention of established couture clients (“One by one, Ingrid Sischy points out in Galliano in the Wilderness, her article for Vanity Fair, the most sought-after grandes dames in the rarefied world of couture clients—Schlumberger, Dodie Rosekrans, Béatrice de Rothschild, and more—showed up at Galliano’s door”); that interest, in turn, attracted the attention of a far more esteemed personage: the foresighted (and granitic) Bernard Jean Étienne Arnault. (“That’s really how the job at Givenchy started,” Galliano has offered by way of an explanation for the next step in his ascension. “I think they were bemused with the fact that they had heard these amazing ladies were coming to this rickety studio in the Bastille and looking amazing in my dresses.”) (Quotes [unless otherwise indicated]: Sischy, I., Vanity Fair, July 2013)
(Sources: Specter, M., The FantasistThe New Yorker, September 22, 2003; Sischy, I., Galliano in the Wilderness, Vanity Fair, July 2013; Spindler, A. M., The Galliano Influence: Clothes That Amaze,  The New York Times, October 14, 1994)
 

 

Linda Evangelista
The erotic sensuality of the kimono with the fluidity of the bias.
(Quote by John Galliano: Fashion's MavericksVogue ~ September 1994)
(Above left photo: Cedric Dordev | Above right photo: Steven Meisel ~ Fashion's MavericksVogue )
Above left image, courtesy of: WWD | Above right image, courtesy of: Les Incroyables
 
  

 
The conservative and stately House of Givenchy (its address was 8 Rue Alfred de Vigny)—established in 1952 by the patrician twenty-four-year-old Hubert de Givenchy (born Count Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy) who presented his first eponymous collection on February 2nd—only a few weeks prior to his twenty-fifth birthday on February 21st—a début collection that Vogue christened as “one of the most news-worthy happenings in Paris this spring(Quote: FIDM Museum Blog, 2013)—was a House founded on understated refinement, respectability, tradition, and discerning elegance; it was a House which was intimately linked with the name and gamine allure of Audrey Hepburn. But by mid-1995—after forty-three years—M. de Givenchy had already decided to retire; the venerable House of Givenchy needed a creative director to replace its outgoing founder and namesake. As the chairman of LVMH and property owner of Givenchy, M. Arnault—at the urging of Vogue's Anna Wintour—already had a designer in mind for the position; for the first time in the history of French haute couture, (the impish) John Galliano, became the first British designer to head a major French fashion House in nearly a century-and-a-half—“since Charles Frederick Worth was appointed by Napoleon III to dress the Empress Eugénie (the House of Worth was founded in 1858)—when he was appointed chief designer in July of 1995 (the announcement was made one hour after M. de Givenchy presented his final haute couture collection, on July 12th, wearing—as does the entire Givenchy atelier—his trademark white-smocked laboratory coat); but beforehand, the negotiations for the appointment had to be conducted under strictest secrecy:  “I really couldn’t tell anyone about it,” Galliano recalled. “Not even my mum and dad. If I told one person, that was it(Quote: Design Museum: John Galliano, undated). (“Givenchy had a talent for creating clothes that made a woman look innocent and sexy at the same time, but in recent years the look had come to be viewed as prissy and dated. Arnault wanted somebody to pull the house into the modern era, and Galliano was everything that the understated and deliberate Marquis de Givenchy was not,” notes Michael Specter.) (Quotes [unless otherwise indicated]: Specter, M., The Fantasist, 2003)
 
 
But M. Arnault's choice—and audacious gamble, to say the least, since Galliano had no actual experience in the traditions of haute couture nor had he apprenticed at a French couture House—(conventionally, a young designer would apprentice for a number of years at an established House, learning age-old techniques by steeping himself in the traditions of haute couture while cultivating his skills, before venturing out to found his own House)—was not popularly received; it was an extraordinary (and progressive) selection that caused a jolt. Once again, it is Michael Specter who provides a succinct summary of the general mood at the time when Galliano's hand and technical capabilities—at least in the arena of couture—were questioned: “French critics used the word ‘capitulation,’ and implied that Arnault’s choice was a sure sign of the nation’s cultural decline. The comments of the couturier Valentino were typical: ‘He has a wonderful imagination, but I am not sure that technically he knows everything about how to make a dress.’” M. de Givenchy, for his part, experienced an even greater shock: the sixty-eight-year-old grand couturier learned of Galliano's appointment by reading it in a news release—issued by his own press office. (Quote: Specter, M., The Fantasist, 2003)
 
 
Little must he have known it at the time, but M. Arnault, by making such a radical move—a method Arnault euphemistically and boastfully referred to as putting ‘new wine into old bottles’—and designating John Galliano to commandeer the helm at Givenchy (and, shortly thereafter, Dior)—in an indirect way—played a crucial part in helping to create fashion history.
(Sources: Givenchy, undated; Givenchy, Voguepedia, undated; Spindler, A. M., Galliano Is Named Designer for House of Givenchy, The New York Times, July 12, 1995; D'Souza, C., McQueen and country, The Observer, March 4, 2001; Fashion Birthday: Hubert de Givenchy, FIDM Museum Blog & Galleries, February 21, 2013; Specter, M., The FantasistThe New Yorker, September 22, 2003)
 



Night Bloom
John Galliano for Givenchy Haute Couture, Spring/Summer 1996 ~ The New York Times Magazine
(Photograph by Lillian Bassman | Model: Anneliese Seubert)
Image courtesy of: In My Galliano Gown
 
  

 
John Galliano unveiled his much-anticipated début—and first-ever—haute couture collection for Givenchy at the Carrousel du Louvre on the evening of Sunday, January 21st, 1996—(he presented his first Givenchy prêt-à-porter collection a couple of months later)—in a ‘Princess and the Pea’ scenario. The show (deemed as “one of the most exciting moments in fashion history[Quote: Blanchard, T., The Independent, 1997])—attended by eighteen-hundred guests, including such designer colleagues as Azzedine Alaïa, Gianni Versace and Gianfranco Ferré—opened with two models, dressed in what appeared to be a fanciful interpretation of late eighteenth-century French Courtly fashion, frolicking atop of over-sized mattresses piled, one upon the other, twenty-feet high. As can be briefly glimpsed in this 1996 John Galliano documentary for The South Bank Show, the television arts program produced by the ITV and Sky Arts Networks, the collection featured Galliano's virtuosity (and his well-earned reputation for fantastical theatricality) in creating extravagantly draped (and lengthy) taffeta ball-gowns and silk faille evening dresses staged within an imaginative setting; Galliano also played with a technique known as “millefeuille”  (“thousand-leaf”), and paid particular homage to M. de Givenchy's classic signature, the bow, which, in one strapless faille ensemble shown on Shalom Harlow, attained massive proportions. Although great hope was pinned on this first couture collection, it was, nonetheless, not so enthusiastically received and reviews were somewhat mixed: “Fashion insiders, who were mostly responsible for Mr. Galliano's appointment at Givenchy, refused to comment publicly about the show, but they seemed uniformly disappointed,” reported Amy Spindler the following day, January 22nd, 1996, for The New York Times. (Quote: Spindler, A. M., The New York Times, 1996)
 
 
On March 16th, 1996, Galliano presented his first prêt-à-porter collection for Givenchy. There is a strong Spanish tone to the show—with its high-waisted, side-striped pegged slacks (and their counterparts, narrow pencil-skirts), montera bullfighter hats, and ornately-embroidered (and tasseled) golden matador epaulettes on the shoulders of short bolero jackets—and Galliano's Mediterranean playfulness manages to come through in the form of frothy flamenco flounces. It was a well-received collection.
 
 
John Galliano's position at Givenchy was, nevertheless, comparatively brief, lasting, as it did, for only fifteen months (and two seasons; his final couture collection for the House of Givenchy was presented on July 7th, 1996). One Friday afternoon in 1996, he received a call with the ominous message that Bernard Arnault wished to see him. “I had a bad-hair day, bad nail polish, the wrong redwhat a time to be caught!” he told Ingrid Sischy for Vanity Fair—the first interview Galliano had given in two years. “A car was sent and I get in and then go up in this lift to his office at the top of the building. It was all very James Bond and intimidating.” Galliano was offered a new position—and the glittering opportunity of a lifetime: “The lift opens and there stands this elegant man, Monsieur Arnault. He starts talking about Dior and then pops the question. Would I? I nearly fell off my chair.” (As part of the deal, LVMH also agreed to get behind the designer’s own, eponymous company.) (Quote:  Sischy, I., Vanity Fair, July 2013)
 
 
1996 was an auspicious year for John Galliano. With his critically acclaimed collections for the House of Givenchy and his scheduled assumption to the creative directorship at the House of Dior, the promising ‘Galliano moment’ was about to mature into the ‘Galliano era’; he had finally—and truly—arrived. (Sources: Spindler, A. M., Investing in Haute Couture's Lower-Brow Future, The New York Times, January 22, 1996; Patterson, S., Spring Haute Couture: Galliano's Gifted Bow At Givenchy, Associated Press, January 21, 1996; Blanchard, T., Givenchy swings back to the futureThe Independent, January 21, 1997; Sischy, I., Galliano in the Wilderness, Vanity Fair, July 2013)
 
  

 
Christian Dior Haute Couture ~ Spring-Summer 1997
(John Galliano's Maasai-inspired début collection for Christian Dior)
(The above two photographs are by Peter Lindbergh ~ Vogue USA: ‘Couture Clash’)
 
Galliano's first haute couture collection for Dior juxtaposed Maasai beading and couture historicism in full-blown evening gowns that required 410 metres of fabric.” ~ Caroline Evans: Past, Present & Couture, SHOWstudio
 Above left image,  courtesy of: Fashionistas | Above right image, courtesy of: Fashion Carrousel
 
  

 
In the midst of one of the coldest winters ever recorded, Christian Dior made his début—and officially opened his new, muted-grey maison de couture—five years prior to Hubert de Givenchy's own, when he unveiled his first collection on February 12th, 1947. In contradiction—and arrant effrontery—to the still-enforced wartime fabric restrictions (and other regulations and deprivations of the period), M. Dior daringly—and unapologetically—sent out voluminous skirts that required more than twenty-metres of material (instead of—and far exceeding—the requisite three-metre limit stipulated by rationing). Christian Dior called his collection ‘La Ligne Corolle,’ after the petals of a flower, but it was Harper's Bazaar's editor-in-chief, the redoubtable Carmel Snow, who coined the term ‘New Look’ to describe the narrow, nipped-in waists; the small, rounded shoulders; the padded hips and busts; and the extravagantly full skirts of Dior's sensational ultra-feminine hour-glass silhouette—the whole ensemble topped by a wide cartwheel hat. (Christian Dior, who freely admitted to being nostalgically marked by a childhood spent in the waning years of what eventually came to be known as ‘La Belle Époque,’ is said to have attributed the provenance of his inspiration for the proportions and silhouette of the full-skirted ‘La Ligne Corolle’ to his mother—and her attire—and to the great Charles James, the Anglo-American master couturier, whose work and talent M. Dior immensely admired, citing James as “the greatest talent of my generation.” [Quote: Thurman, J., The New Yorker, 2014])
 

Among ‘fashion moments,’ M. Dior's (provocative) début was one of the most memorable and most enduring of the twentieth-century. Considering its appearance at such a bleak time—with France and much of Europe still reeling (and in the process of recovering) from the devastating effects of an annihilating Second World War—the collection was lambasted as ‘immoral’ and  ‘wasteful’ by the press. (It was not unusual for a typical, multi-layered, crinolined Dior evening gown to incorporate tens of metres of material, including tulle—a very fine, light-weight netting—and complex underpinnings, in its creation: in September 1947, Britain’s Picture Post featured “a snapshot of Dior seamstresses working on a dress made with 50 yards of fabric, a scandalous amount to a country still under rationing.” [Quote: Voguepedia: New Look, undated]) As Mary Blume notes in The Master of Us All (FSG, 2013:74)—her recent biography of the inimitable Cristóbal Balenciaga, the great Spanish designer—“His clothes  [Christian Dior's] were a reaction to the grim wartime years and his success, he felt, was because he brought back the neglected art of pleasing.” By the time of his death in 1957, ten years after opening his House, at the age of fifty-two at an Italian spa, Christian Dior—who had worked as an assistant for Lucien Lelong and Robert Piguet before opening his own establishment (with financial backing from Marcel Boussac—a wealthy industrialist, entrepreneur, and owner of a successful textile manufacturing company—who invested six million francs for M. Dior to found his own Maison)—had left behind one of the grandest and most illustrious couture Houses in France. (Within two years of opening his salon, the House of Dior was, by 1949, responsible for a staggering five percent of France's total export revenue.) Along with the House of Chanel, the House of Dior is—to this day—one of the greatest and most highly regarded fashion brands in the world; its very name (and reputation) embodies the highest standards of French quality and refinement.
 

  
 
Shalom Harlow
(Above left photo is by Nick Knight | Above right photo is by Peter Lindbergh for Vogue USA)
 
Chrystèle Saint-Louis Augustin
Christian Dior Haute Couture ~ Spring-Summer 1997
(Fringed Chinese shawl dress from John Galliano's début collection for Christian Dior)
 Top left image, courtesy of: Pinterest | Top right image, courtesy of: The Moustached King
Above image courtesy of: fashionifah.
 
  

 
Although the House of Dior remained a respected name in the decades following the death of its founder, it had, nonetheless, slumbered into quiet, lethargic dignity—though without the lustre of its past excitement or former  glory. Designer followed designer until in 1989, when Marc Bohan, who had been at the helm at Dior for three decades (since 1961), was replaced by Gianfranco Ferré, the Italian designer. (As was previously mentioned, Gianfranco Ferré's first haute couture presentation for Dior—in 1989—was notably awarded the Dé d’Or for best collection.) M. Ferré's own tenure came to an end in 1996 after about seven years when, in turn, he was replaced by John Galliano (the announcement was made on October 14th, 1996, almost immediately after the John Galliano Spring-Summer 1997 collection was shown)—M. Arnault had decided to transfer the designer from Givenchy and install him at Dior. (In 1995, a year prior to Galliano's appointment, the Dior couture line was consigned to a wholly-owned subsidiary and assumed the corporate name of ‘Christian Dior Couture.’ John Galliano’s first-ever dress for the House of Dior was an inky, midnight-blue, lingerie-inspired silk slip dress—with a bit of lace detailing—that he specially created for Diana, Princess of Wales, who wore the gown in December 1996, when she appeared as the guest of honour at the annual fund-raising gala dinner given at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for the The Costume Institute's exhibit, “Christian Dior: 1947–1957,” in anticipation of the House of Dior's forthcoming 50th anniversary, early in 1997.) (Sources: Blume, M., The Master of Us All: Balenciaga, His Workrooms, His World, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013; Christian Dior Finances, undated; Voguepedia: New Look, undated; Kane, F., A First Look at the Met's New Costume Institute ExhibitCharles James: Beyond Fashion,”  Vogue, February 10, 2014; Thurman, J., Dressing Up,  The New Yorker, May 5, 2014)
 
 

  
Yasmeen Ghauri
 
Linda Evangelista
 
Shalom Harlow
John Galliano for Christian Dior ~ from the Autumn-Winter 1997 advertisement campaign
(Campaign photographs by Nick Knight)
The above five images are courtesy of: LiveJournal
 
 
Shalom Harlow
Christian Dior Autumn-Winter 1997 advertisement campaign
(Photograph by Nick Knight)
Image courtesy of: SHOWstudio
 
  

  
As he did at Givenchy, one of John Galliano's first acts was to delve into the Dior archives for inspiration and—with unencumbered access to the House's invaluable repository—to immerse and familiarize himself with the history and ‘codes’ of the House. John Galliano's landmark—and eagerly awaited—début (Spring-Summer 1997) collection for the House of Dior took place on January 20th, 1997, at Paris's historical Le Grand Hôtel, situated in the Ninth Arrondissement. (The excitement and anticipation, it can be said, were palpable.) In tribute to Christian Dior, but also perhaps in acknowledgment of the enduring legacy for irrefutable glamour which M. Dior had managed to construct during his brief, ten-year term, a sizable section of Le Grand had been deftly—and evocatively—replicated into a facsimile of Christian Dior's pearl-grey Avenue Montaigne salon (with mounds of flowers and lush greeneries, massed in enormous urns and containers) as it existed in the 1940s and 1950s, along with the famous staircase—on which the likes of Jean Cocteau and Marlene Dietrich had once sat to watch the shows in the 1950s (and down the replica of which models now negotiated their descent)—was reproduced, all to great effect, in what (The New York Times's) Amy Spindler aptly described as a ‘Masai-meets-Dior’ presentation.
 

Coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary year of the House of Dior's establishment—as well as Christian Dior's iconic ‘New Look’ of 1947—Galliano presented a collection of fifty ensembles that began with fresh little grey day suits and mini-dresses; eventually, however, Galliano's propensity (and love) for exotic cultures and locations surfaced—first in ‘Anna May Wong’ dresses (with slick, jet-black bobbed-hair) and finally culminated in gorgeous, tribal-beaded, Maasai-inspired corseted dresses and grand Edwardian-silhouetted ‘Boldini’ ball-gowns concocted from yards and yards of delicate, foamy tulle and light-as-mousse silk organza—some of which required more than four-hundred-and-ten metres of fabric—in the grand Dior tradition. (Stephen Jones even devised Maasai-beaded fedora hats to compliment some of the dresses.) It was a resounding success.

 
Amy M. Spindler of The New York Times succinctly summed up Galliano's début in this way: “Mr. Galliano's show was a credit to himself, to Mr. Dior, whose name is on the door, and to the future of the art, which is always in question(Quote: Spindler, A., The New York Times, 1997). (Bernard Arnault's instincts had, once again, proved to be correct.) The electrifying Galliano-Dior era was formally inaugurated—in spectacular fashion. (Sources: Evans, C., Past, Present & Couture, SHOWstudio, March 2, 2002; Spindler, A. M., Among Couture Debuts, Galliano's Is the Standout, The New York Times, January 21, 1997; Christian Dior, Voguepedia, undated)
 
 
With the seemingly boundless resources of LVMH behind him—not to mention some of the most skilled hands and ateliers of one of France's wealthiest and most distinguished haute couture Houses at his disposal—Galliano's imagination could at last be unfettered and allowed free rein; the vista of creative possibilities lay limitless before him. Excitement had at long last been reawakened at the House of Christian Dior.
  

 
 
John Galliano for Christian Dior ~ Spring-Summer1998 advertisement campaign
(Photographs by Nick Knight)
Above left image, courtesy of: Pleasurephoto | Above right image, courtesy of: Pinterest
 
  

 
The legacy of Christian Dior rested in the hands of John Galliano—or ‘le petit monsieur,’ as he came to be known—for a little over fourteen years; it all came to an abrupt end one Thursday evening (February 24th) in the winter of 2011 when—just before the Paris Fashion Week (prêt-à-porter) shows were due to be presented and only a few weeks after his presentation, in January, of what turned out to be his final haute couture collection for the House of Dior: Christian Dior Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2011, a tribute collection inspired by the graphic gouache illustrations of René Gruau who worked for (and was a friend of) M. Dior (and others) in the 1940s and 1950s—in an intoxicated state of mind, the designer let loose a drunken, anti-Semitic tirade against a couple at a favourite Marais café-and-bar, La Perle, located in the Third Arrondissement, near his apartment; he was arrested and taken into custody by police. (Another, earlier anti-Semitic outburst—caught on video—which had also occurred at La Perle and been captured by a mobile phone camera in December of 2010, was released on the Internet very shortly after the February incident; these catalytic episodes precipitated Galliano's eventual dismissal from the House of Dior, which was formally announced on March 1st, 2011—only three days before he was scheduled to show his Autumn-Winter 2011 Dior collection at the Musée Rodin in Paris.) In stark contrast to its glorious and promising beginning, the Galliano chapter in the history of the House of Dior had abruptly come to an ignominious conclusion. (Sources: Samuel, H., John Galliano fired by Christian Dior, The Telegraph, March 1, 2011; Silva, H., John Galliano Fired From Dior, The New York Times Style Magazine, March 1, 2011; Elliott, H., John Galliano Dismissed From Dior, Forbes, March 1, 2011)
 
  

 
Lily Donaldson
Unbelievable Fashion” ~  Vogue UK, December 2008
(Photographed by Nick Knight)
Above left image, courtesy of: The Moustached King | Above right image, courtesy of: indulgy
 
 

 
While John Galliano was emanating ground-breaking tremors from his base in Paris, breathing fresh life into 1990s fashion—at once rejuvenating it and shaking it to its very foundations—across the waters, in London, another rising young British talent was creating sartorial shock waves of equal seismic proportions.
 
 
The youngest of six children, Lee Alexander McQueen was born on March 17th, 1969, and grew up in Stratford, East London, the son of a taxi driver (Ronald McQueen); his mother, Joyce, worked as a teacher. McQueen left formal schooling at the age sixteen and—after watching a 1986 television programme about the shortage of tailors' apprentices—began an apprenticeship, first at Anderson & Sheppard (who immediately offered him a job) and, two years afterwards, at Gieves & Hawkes—both of which are traditional British bespoke tailoring Houses with an acute emphasis on fine-quality, hand-crafted gentlemen's attire. (Established in 1906 and located at 32 Old Burlington Street, London, Anderson & Sheppard prides itself—as its website affirms—on dressing “some of the world's most elegant and famous men... We neither licence nor produce any made-to-measure or ready-to-wear suits or sports coats[Quote: Anderson & Sheppard, 2013]. Somewhat older, the neighbouring Gieves & Hawkes was established in 1771 by Thomas Hawkes and is currently located at the heart of London's bespoke tailoring district: No. 1 Savile Row, once an imposing town-house originally belonging to Bryan Fairfax—a commissioner of customs for King George III—and designed by William Kent; at one point in its long history—in 1870, to be precise—No. 1 was the home of the Royal Geographical Society, founded in 1830. Hawkes & Co.—a prestigious London military and  court tailors—had purchased the site at No. 1 Savile Row in 1913, before later partnering with Gieves, a naval establishment. Among its various services—aside from its traditional tailoring—Gieves & Hawkes offers its gentleman customer the option of formal-wear, casual-wear, shirts, ties, and other sartorial accessories.) (Sources: Alexander McQueen, 2013; Anderson & Sheppard, 2013; Gieves & Hawkes, undated; D'Souza, C., McQueen and country, The Observer, March 4, 2001)
 
  
 

Lee Alexander McQueen
(Portrait by Tim Walker ~ 2009)
Image courtesy of: The Style Examiner
 
  

 
From the staid establishments of Savile Row, McQueen next found work at Angels and Bermans, the theatrical costumiers, where he learned to master six pattern cutting methods from the sixteenth century to the present. Founded in 1840 as a second-hand clothing shop in the Seven Dials area of London (near Covent Garden) by Morris Angel, the company eventually branched out into theatrical costumes for the stages of London's famed West End shows. The company's first association with the film industry dates back to 1913 when they were first hired to create costumes for the silent American film “Maid of the Mountains”. (Angels and Bermans acquired their first Academy Award in 1948 for Laurence Olivier's memorable rendition of William Shakespeare's “Hamlet”. Since then, Angels and Bermans have been nominated for several film awards—including the British Academy of Film and Television Arts [BAFTA]—and won another Oscar for the 2007 film, “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”.) Angels obtained Bermans in 1992, moving their professional hire facilities for film, television, and theatre from their original location, at 119 Shaftesbury Avenue (which presently remains as the West End location of Angels Fancy Dress, six floors of fancy dress costumes comprising nearly an acre in storage space), to Camden, at 1 Garrick Road. Then, by the age of twenty, McQueen found employment with the self-taught designer Koji Tatsuno in London (who presently resides and works in Paris).


In 1989, McQueen decided to leave London—after Tatsuno had gone bankrupt—and travel, alone, to Milan (on a one-way ticket) where he found work as a design-studio assistant and pattern cutter at the atelier of Italian fashion House of Romeo Gigli, the designer noted, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, for his highly-romantic designs and ethereal, Renaissance-esque sentiments (an aesthetic sensibility that McQueen greatly appreciated—Romeo Gigli being one of McQueen's favourite designers at the time); McQueen's time at Gigli lasted less than twelve months. After returning to London in 1990, McQueen applied to work as a pattern-cutting instructor at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design. The director of the fashion design program, however, was apparently so impressed with McQueen's portfolio that he offered him a spot as a student in the school’s Master’s Degree program instead. McQueen accepted the offer—(he was assisted with a loan from an aunt). In 1992, Lee McQueen completed and presented his fourteen-piece Master's of Arts—(Magister Artium)—Degree collection which, in an instance that paralleled that of Joan Burstein and John Galliano in 1984, was purchased in its entirety—every piece of it, reportedly for £5,000—by the high-heeled, crimson-red-lipsticked, chain-smoking Isabella Blow. (As notoriously short of money as she was for her delicious brand of dotty English eccentricity, Isabella, then a freelance stylist, paid for the collection—a Victorian-themed presentation ominously entitled “Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims” and shown at a small theatre in London, the Kensington Olympia—in weekly instalments of £100.)
(Sources: Alexander McQueen, 2013; Angels and Bermans, 2012; Alexander McQueen, Voguepedia, undated; Roberts, M., Alexander McQueen, Vanity Fair, February 11, 2010; Isabella Blow: Alexander McQueen's Muse And Mentor Also Died By Suicide, The Huffington Post, May 17, 2010)
 
 

 
McQueen is dead: Long live Alexander McQueen
(Photographed by Nick Knight for The Face ~ 1998)
Above left image, courtesy of: eye joe | Above right image, courtesy of: The Quiet Front
 
 

 
The story of Alexander McQueen is inextricably allied with that of his friend, muse, supporter/promoter, advisor (and catalyst), Isabella Blow (née Delves Broughton); a mention is, therefore, inevitable. Like Anna Piaggi (1931-2012), her Italian counterpart, Isabella Blow (1958-2007)—always known as ‘Izzy’ to her friends and intimates—was one of those maverick ‘birds of Paradise’ who alight on the scene and fearlessly blaze through the world of fashion, setting the pace instead of following someone else's. Though neither woman could ever be described as conventionally ‘beautiful,’ they nonetheless possessed something rarer, something more ineffable than mere physical beauty: they were gifted with a sense of personal style (and a keen eye)—they were, in every true sense of the term, unique and iconic personalities—(in an age where the term ‘iconic’ is so offhandedly applied, with neither distinction nor sincere consideration)—with a total disregard for either comfort or convention. (Lee McQueen once described Isabella as “a cross between a Billingsgate fishwife and Lucretia Borgia[Quote: Horyn, C. The New York Times, 2007].)
 
 
Also in common with Piaggi, Blow was a fixture on the international fashion circuit in one of her various roles as fashion magazine editor—at one time or another, she worked for American Vogue (where she began her career, in the 1980s, as Anna Wintour’s assistant at American Vogue—the two women had been introduced to one another by a mutual friend, the musician Bryan Ferry—where she is alleged to have cleaned Ms. Wintour's desk with Perrier water and Chanel perfume; prior to their introduction, Isabella had initially moved to New York, in 1979, to study ancient Chinese art at Columbia University), Tatler (after her return to London in 1986), British Vogue (in 1993), and the Sunday Times Style Magazine (where, from 1997 to 2001, her position was that of Fashion Director, before eventually returning  to Tatler as its Fashion Director)—consultant (to companies such as Swarovski), stylist, muse, arbiter, and talent spotter, famous for never being seen without her trademark: a hat—or some such headdress—on her head (invariably, a spectacular creation by Philip Treacy), with her face, at times, almost entirely obscured. (Hats were an intrinsic part of Isabella's image and identity—as well as her psyche: “I don't use a hat as a prop,” Isabella  Blow once said, “I use it as a part of me. If I am feeling really low, I go and see Philip, cover my face, and feel fantastic.” For ‘Izzy,’ hats—and, to a greater extent, fashion—were quite evidently therapeutic.) (Quote: Sowray, B., Vogue, November 2011)
 
  

 
Isabella ‘Izzy’ Blow ~ New York, February 2002
(Red silk-&-feather “swirl” hat by Philip Treacy |  Silver-paillette sequin dress, by Teerabul Songvich)
(Photograph by Nick Knight)
Image courtesy of: The Isabella Blow Foundation
 
 

 
Credited with discovering (and launching the careers of) the models  Iris Palmer, Honor Fraser, Sophie Dahl, Victoria ‘Plum’ Sykes, and Stella Tennant, Blow was also the discoverer of the designers Jeremy Scott, Julien Macdonald—(the designer who succeeded McQueen at Givenchy in 2001) and Hussein Chalayan (presently the designer for the House of Vionnet). But by far, Isabella's greatest discoveries (and protégés) were, undoubtedly, the Irish-born milliner Philip Treacy and Lee Alexander McQueen, whose careers she unstintingly nurtured, championed, and promoted. (It was Isabella, for instance, who advised McQueen to use his middle—instead of his first—name, ‘Alexander,’ for his fashion label and brand—a comparative reference and associative allusion to the great and historical Alexander of Macedon.) Michael Roberts, currently the fashion director of Vanity Fair, who had known Isabella since the mid-1980s—he had initially hired her as his assistant at Tatler—recalled his first introduction to Alexander McQueen, in the early 1990s, via Ms. Blow; she rang him up while he was living in Paris: “‘You absolutely have to do a huge story on him,’ she said out of the blue one day, wagging a finger in my face. ‘He is the only hope of British fashion’” (Quote: Roberts, M., Vanity Fair, 2010). Aside from her famous discoveries, she was just as known for her provocative editorial spreads and collaborations with some of the top fashion photographers of the day; these included Steven Meisel, David LaChapelle and Sean Ellis.
 
 
Isabella Blow was more than a collaborator and muse, though; she was a mentor. “She was about futurism, technical fabrics, dresses that fly and Space Age imagery in her editorial shoots,” Alistair O’Neill, one of the curators of “Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!,” the tony London exhibition, has contended. “She was progressive, trying to push fashion forward, a patron of contemporary fashion, but a patron in the sense that she encouraged learning, she was keen on feeding designers ideas, and she nurtured them in very important ways(Quote: Conti, S., WWD, 2013). In her encouragement and advancement of learning, she knew, for example, that McQueen had always had a love for and a fascination with birds—birds of prey, in particular. To that end, Isabella organized falconry lessons for Lee on the grounds of Hilles House, the Blows' estate in Gloucestershire. And it was also Isabella who—as Alistair O’Neill further contends—pointed Philip Treacy's attention to the fact that, in Britain in the late eighteenth-century, models of full-rigged galleons worn on the head—in celebration of Britain’s unstoppable victories on the high seas as well as her dominance of sea-faring commerce—were all the rage amongst the fashionable ladies of the time. (Between 1750 and 1850, thanks to the efficiency of her shipping fleets, England was the leader in world trade.)
 
 
(Still, Isabella could be rigorously demanding—of herself as well as of others—and although there was genuine friendship and affection between Isabella and Lee, their relationship was strained at times, especially after the designer's label came under the aegis of the Gucci Group, which had acquired a 51% share of the Alexander McQueen brand in December of 2000; there developed a bitterness on Isabella's side that Lee had not offered her a position, in an official capacity, within his newly-formulated company—Isabella is said to have orchestrated the lucrative sale in the first place, an arrangement that made Lee a very rich designer. “She functioned outside the corporate world,” Daphne Guinness, a mutual friend of both Lee and Isabella, has been quoted as saying. “Once the deals started happening, she fell by the wayside. Everybody else got contracts, and she got a free dress[Quote: Horyn, C., The New York Times, 2007]. Produced by Annabel Hobley and Edmund Coulthard, ‘McQueen & I’—the 2011 Blast! Films documentary for Channel 4, aired one year after, and marking the first anniversary of, the designer's death—provides a comprehensive view of Alexander McQueen's life and career as well as his sometimes-stormy relationship with Isabella Blow.)
 

  
 


The above four images are courtesy of: The Snap Assembly
Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!
(Photographs by Nick Knight)
 

 

By the time Isabella had made her acquaintance with McQueen and their association (and friendship) began in 1992, she had already known Philip Treacy for several years. The celebrated hatter and his patron/muse had first met back in 1989 when Philip, still an unknown student at London's Royal College of Art (where, enrolled in the college's Master's Degree fashion program, he specialized in hat design), came in one day into the offices of Tatler, where Isabella was the style editor, with one of his head-pieces—a side-swept, jagged-edged green felt hat—to show Michael Roberts, fashion director of the magazine at the time (who needed a green hat for a magazine article titled The Green Hat but could not find one): “I just thought she looked amazing,”  Treacy recalled of his first sighted glimpse of Blow, whose appearance, even then, left an indelible mark on his memory. “She was unlike anyone else—a flamboyant dresser and she loved hats. I made so many for her and she wore them all the time, yet treated them terribly. She sat on them, lost them or her dogs chewed them, but she inspired me to make amazing things for her. I wanted her to love them, to love me, really(Quote: Cavendish, L., The Telegraph, 2013). So taken was she with Treacy's creation that Isabella, about to wed Detmar Blow, sought and finally located Philip—who was supplying hats for the hat department of Harrods, working in a little room at the Royal College during the summer months while the majority of students were away—and commissioned him to create a headpiece for her nuptials. (Having chosen a Medieval theme for her wedding and wedding dress, which was of plum-coloured velvet with a heavily embroidered neckline, Philip complimented the ensemble by creating a filigree gold-lace coronal headdress over a white-coloured wimple.) Their association deepened further when, in 1990, Treacy graduated from  Royal College—with first-class honours—and the new, emerging young milliner established his first atelier in the basement of the Blows’ residence on Elizabeth Street in Belgravia; it remained as his studio-base for the next decade. (Additionally, Isabella was also elemental in introducing Philip to some key fashion-industry people such as Manolo Blahnik and Rifat Ozbek, the designer, as well as to André Leon Talley, formerly American Vogue's editor-at-large, aiding him to secure many important commissions as well, including one with the House of Chanel.) As with McQueen, Isabella formed a deep attachment to Philip and their relationship was one of the great creative partnerships between muse and creator—a partnership that endured until Isabella's death.
 
(Sources: Horyn, C., The Woman No Hat Could Tame, The New York Times, May 10, 2007; Sowray, B., Who's Who: Isabella Blow | Vogue, November 4, 2011; Horyn, C., The Pillar: Isabella Blow, The New York Times | On the Runway, May 10, 2007; Horyn, C., The Woman No Hat Could Tame, The New York Times, May 10, 2007; Emine, S., Obituary: Isabella Blow, The Guardian, May 8, 2007; Roberts, M., Alexander McQueen, Vanity Fair, February 11, 2010; Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!, Somerset House, 2013; McCann, C., Hats Off to Isabella Blow, Daily Mail, May 9, 2013; Conti, S., Isabella Blow: A Life Less Ordinary, WWD, November 20, 2013; Cavendish, L., Philip Treacy and Isabella Blow: the hatter and his muse, The Telegraph, November 9, 2013; Philip Treacy, Voguepedia, undated; Philip Treacy: When Philip Met Isabella, Design Museum, 2002; Alexander McQueen, 2013; Artscape: Philip Treacy In Conversation With Virginia Trioli, April 17, 2012)
 
 

 
Image courtesy of: SHOWstudio
 
 
Top left image, courtesy of: L'Officiel Italia | Top right image, courtesy of: British Vogue
Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!
(Photographs by Nick Knight )
  
 

 
For all her intuitive abilities and talents, however, the larger-than-life figure of Isabella Blow—with her idiosyncratic traits such as her penchant for using pink ink to write with or signing her letters with a stained imprint of her lips coated in her signature ‘Chanel Rouge Coromandel’ lipstick—was a troubled soul. A manic depressive, she struggled with the debilitating effects of  depression for years, reportedly due to money problems (she had been disinherited by her father who, at the time of his death in 1993, left her only £5000 out of an estate alleged to have been worth more than a million), magnified by her infertility (in an attempt to conceive a child, she had undergone in-vitro fertilisation treatments on eight separate occasions but without success). Instead, she substituted a black pug named ‘Alfie’ for her lack of children—and had been on medication (she is even alleged to have been treated with electroconvulsive therapy); towards the end of her life, her depression was further compounded by the diagnosis of ovarian cancer. (In a recent interview with Lucy Cavendish of The Telegraph, Philip Treacy, recalling his association with Isabella Blow and the aftermath of her death, cited other reasons for her depression in the final months of her life—the loss of purpose, feelings of irrelevance, and an aversion to old age: “She thought she no longer mattered. For all her flamboyance and humour and warmth, Isabella actually suffered from low self-esteem. Very few people got to see that. She also had this thing about getting old. She hated it. Before she died, she told me that she felt as if she had been somehow left behind in the fashion world. It wasn't true. But she was never fêted while she was alive. She gave so much and worked so hard. She supported the careers of many young people who didn't stand a chance without her, yet she never won a single award.” [Quote: Cavendish, L., The Telegraph, 2013])
(Sources: Larocca, A., The Sad Hatter, New York Magazine, July 15, 2007; Cavendish, L., Philip Treacy and Isabella Blow: the hatter and his muse, The Telegraph, November 9, 2013)
 
 

  
 
The above two images are courtesy of: Pinterest
Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!
(Photographs by Nick Knight )
  
 

 
Suicide lurking in a family's background tends to set a precedence; in Isabella's, there were at least two examples: her grandfather, the notorious Sir Henry John “Jock” Delves Broughton, was once suspected (and accused) of murdering his wife's much younger lover, Josslyn Victor Hay, Earl of Erroll, in Kenya on January 24th, 1941, and later committed suicide in a Liverpool hotel (even though he was later acquitted of the charges; the murder case was later famously recounted in James Fox's 1982 book, “White Mischief ”);  then there was Isabella's late father-in-law, Jonathan Blow, who had poisoned himself at the Blows' ancestral family seat near Painswick in Gloucestershire, Hilles House, by drinking weed killer. After a number of attempts to take her own life (she had been hospitalized in 2006 after an overdose), including one where she cast herself from the Hammersmith Flyover, splintering the bones in her feet (after which, she could no longer wear her beloved Manolo Blahnik stiletto shoes, as integral a part of her projected image and identity as her bespoke Treacy-created headdresses and McQueen ensembles), she finally succeeded in ending her life, at the age of forty-eight, on Monday, May 7th, 2007: she poisoned herself by ingesting Paraquat, a toxic weed-killer, a couple of days before—(her father-in-law had killed himself using the same method, in the same house, some thirty years earlier); she died at the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital where she had been admitted to on Saturday, May the 5th, after being found by her sister at Hilles. (As he had created the head-dress for her wedding, it was Philip Treacy who aptly furnished a final head-piece for Isabella's funeral, which took place at Gloucester Cathedral on May 15th,  2007—the same cathedral where Isabella had married Detmar nearly twenty years earlier: a black hat, in the form of a two-masted sailing ship—on a black mannequin's head amidst, and rising above, a bank of white roses—which was placed atop of her black velvet-draped coffin and which she had worn in life. McQueen, Treacy and Blow's sister, Julia, dressed her body: inside her coffin, she was attired in a long, gold-embroidered, red silk brocade coat-dress—with a  tassled hem—especially designed for her by McQueen; she was also buried in her favourite Treacy creation: his famous ‘pheasant’ hat; her feet were shod in a pair of gold platform shoes).

 
In death, Isabella Blow's acclaim—along with her legendary status and celebrity—has grown exponentially. Since her demise, a crop of books have been penned, chronicling her (creatively-driven) life, among them: “Blow by Blow: The Story of Isabella Blow” (2010) by her second husband and widower, Detmar Blow; other titles have come to include: “Isabella Blow” (2010) by Martina Rink (with a foreword by Philip Treacy); “Isabella Blow: A Life in Fashion” (2010) by Lauren Goldstein Crowe; and “Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!” (by Alistair O'Neill—with photos by Nick Knight—and released by Rizzoli International Publications), the accompanying book to the most recent exhibition of the same title (which had been on view from November 20th, 2013, through until March 2nd, 2014, at Somerset House). (The fascination with Isabella Blow and her life has not been limited to books and exhibitions. In the summer of 2013, a play based on her life, “Blow Me,” written by Jessica Farr and directed by Paul Tei of the Mad Cat Theatre Company in Miami, opened at the Miami Theater Center with Erin Joy Schmidt in the starring role as Isabella. In the last few years—since the autumn of 2010, in fact—there have also been rumours circulating about a biographical film based on Lauren Goldstein Crowe's book, “Isabella Blow: A Life in Fashion”; a former-assistant to Blow, Ms. Crowe was purportedly hired as a consultant on the film.)
 
 
Launched in collaboration between the Isabella Blow Foundation, Somerset House, and Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, “Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!” has been touted as a major retrospective exhibition—co-curated by  the aforementioned Alistair O'Neill and Shonagh Marshall—that celebrated the late Isabella Blow by showcasing her style—and life, as she expressed it in the medium of clothes, hats, shoes and other accessories—in over a hundred pieces from her amassed, extensive  wardrobe collection, now collectively owned and archived by Daphne Guinness (founder of the Isabella Blow Foundation, which raises funds to support, through bursaries and scholarships, burgeoning young talent in the form of fashion and art students—a tribute to, and a continuation of, Isabella's legacy—as well as facilitating research into mental health and depression); Guinness purchased every lot of the iconic collection in June 2010 (a collection which included ninety McQueen dresses and fifty Treacy hats, as well as portraits by the celebrated photographer Mario Testino and Karl Lagerfeld), a few months before it was slated to be auctioned—and forever dispersed—on September 15th, 2010, at Christie's in London, thereby preserving it for posterity. (“Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!” is not the first exhibition to eulogize Isabella Blow's style and influence—and her abiding love of fashion and headpieces. In 2002, the Design Museum held an exhibition entitled “When Philip Met Isabella,” which celebrated the relationship between the master milliner and his muse and mentor.)
 
(Sources: Emine, S., Obituary: Isabella Blow, The Guardian, May 8, 2007; Roberts, G., Isabella Blow: Eccentric to the end, The Daily Mail,  May 9, 2007; Alexander, H., A suitably stylish send-off for Isabella Blow, The Telegraph, May 16, 2007; Dunbar, P., They blamed me for her suicide, The Daily Mail, June 16, 2012; Karmali, S., Isabella Blow: The Play, Vogue UK, August 20, 2013; Odell, A., Sounds Like the Isabella Blow Biopic Involving John Galliano and Philip Treacy Really Is Happening, The Cut, October 27, 2010; Israel, K., The surreal world of Isabella Blow, Wallpaper* Magazine, November 20, 2013; Alexander, E., Guinness' Tribute, Vogue UK, July 5, 2010; Menkes, S., Isabella Blow's Exceptional Style Up for Sale, The New York Times, May 17, 2010; Blow, S., Hats off to Isabella Blow, The Independent, November 19, 2013; Cavendish, L., Philip Treacy and Isabella Blow: the hatter and his museThe Telegraph, November 9, 2013; Quek, S-W., The dA-Zed Guide to Isabella Blow, Dazed Digital, November 2013)
 
 
  

 
The above two images are courtesy of: Pinterest
Launched in partnership with the Isabella Blow Foundation & Central Saint Martins, Somerset House was the setting—from November 20th, 2013 to March 2nd, 2014—of a retrospective exhibition that celebrated the life & wardrobe of the late, iconic Isabella Blow (1958-2007)
The exhibition showcased over a hundred pieces from her collection, now owned by Daphne Guinness

(The above eight photographs are by Nick Knight & formed part of the exhibition's catalogue/book)
 
  

 
Hailed as the future of British fashion, Alexander McQueen once famously declared, “Give me time, and I’ll give you a revolution.” And in a relatively brief span of time (and meteoric career: he was named ‘British Designer of the Year’ in 1996, 1997, 2001 and 2003), McQueen would afford plenty of examples of his brand of revolution—and enduring genius. Nearly two years after his passing, Cathy Horyn, of The New York Times, pin-pointed the McQueen genius: “Knowledge was his revolution. And whether or not he could see it, Mr. McQueen had built a durable brand.” (Quotes & source: Horyn, C., The New York Times, January 2012)
 

McQueen's first studio—which he set up in the familiar East End, where he had grown, a derelict but also an affordable part of London—was funded by Social Services (in the form of Unemployment Benefits), the cheques of which he used to purchase his fabrics and supplies. He began presenting his collections at twenty-four; he staged the first of his controversial fashion shows in warehouses—produced, as with Galliano's early shows, on a shoe-string budget—using edgy models such as Jodie Kidd who, like McQueen, was also just beginning her foray into fashion (modelling) at the time. (In order to safeguard and preserve his identity from exposure—as well as his cheques from Social Services on which he depended and, thereby, evading penalty—McQueen was notorious for conducting his earliest video interviews with his back turned to the cameras, adamantly refusing to show his face.)
 
 
But where Galliano was nostalgically romantic, McQueen was intentionally provocative: “misogynistic,” “disturbing,” “sickening,” “lewd” were all terms used by the press to describe the imagery of his (increasingly aggressive and seemingly violent) presentations. (McQueen's first, post-graduation collection was for Autumn-Winter 1993/1994 “Taxi Driver,” shown at the Ritz Hotel on a single clothes rail. It was in this collection that McQueen first introduced what would become his infamous “bumster” trousers, cut very low on the hips to elongate the line of the torso; the “bumster” would only receive wide acclaim in the following few seasons: “Nihilism,” Spring-Summer 1994 collection;  “Banshee,” Autumn-Winter 1994-1995 collection—in which Isabella Blow walked the catwalk for McQueen—and  “The Birds,” McQueen's homage to Alfred Hitchcock, the great film director.) (Source: McQueen & I, Blast! Films, 2011)

 


‘The Provocateurs’: the dynamic team of Alexander McQueen & Isabella Blow
Burning Down the House
'Swinging London' edition of Vanity Fair ~ March 1997 issue
(Photographed at Hedingham Castle, Essex, by David LaChapelle ~ December 1996)
Image courtesy of: National Portrait Gallery

 


With collections titled, “The Birds” (Spring-Summer 1995), “Highland Rape” (Autumn-Winter 1995/1996: a collection about Jacobite rebellion in the eighteenth century as well as a reference to England’s Highland clearances or ‘rape’ of Scotland in the nineteenth), “La Poupée” (Spring-Summer 1997),   “It's a Jungle Out There” (Autumn-Winter 1997/1998), “Joan” (Autumn-Winter 1998/1999), “No. 13” (Spring-Summer 1999), “The Overlook” (Autumn-Winter 1999/2000),  “Eye” (Spring-Summer 2000), “Voss” (Spring-Summer 2001: shown in London, this collection was ingeniously presented in a two-way mirrored glass box in which the head-bandaged models acted the roles of insane inmates incarcerated in a mental health asylum; the audience could see the models but the models could not see the audience), “What a Merry-Go-Round” (Autumn-Winter 2001/2002), “Dance of the Twisted Bull” (Spring-Summer 2002), “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (Autumn-Winter 2002/2003), “Irere” (Spring-Summer 2003), “Scanners” (Autumn-Winter 2003/2004), “Deliverance” (Spring-Summer 2004), “It's Only a Game” (Spring-Summer 2005: meant as a commentary on the ‘game’ of fashion, the show was choreographed as a chess game with models dressed as chess pieces), “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (Autumn-Winter 2005/2006), “Widows of Culloden” (Autumn-Winter 2006/2007: inspired by the 1745 massacre of the Scottish Jacobites by the English; the finale, set to the evocative strains of John Williams's and Itzhak Perlman's theme song for Steven Spielberg's award-winning 1993 film, Schindler's List, is a sensational—and hauntingly beautiful—hologram form of his friend and muse, Kate Moss, who appeared as a spectral ‘vision’ within a glass pyramid), “La Dame Bleue” (Spring-Summer 2008: devastated by the loss of his close friend and staunchest supporter a few months earlier, in May of 2007, McQueen dedicated this collection as a tribute to Isabella Blow), “The Girl Who Lived in the Tree” (Autumn-Winter 2008/2009: a fairy-tale collection inspired by an elm tree growing in the garden of McQueen's country home near Fairlight Cove in East Sussex, with monarchical references to the Queens of England and the Duke of Wellington), “The Horn of Plenty” (Autumn-Winter 2009/2010), and “Plato's Atlantis” (Spring-Summer 2010: McQueen's last, completed women’s collection before his suicide several months later, in February 2010; models walked the runway in a show that was live-streamed on the Internet—by way of  mobile robotic cameras—on Nick Knight's website, SHOWstudio, in twelve-inch ‘Armadillo’ shoes inspired by Charles Darwin’s famous 1859 book, On the Origin of Species; thirty minutes before the show, Lady Gaga tweeted that McQueen was about to premiere her new single. With over a million followers, SHOWstudio's site duly crashed—one of McQueen's complete iridescent ‘Armadillo’ ensembles from the collection, including shoes, are featured in Gaga's music video, “Bad Romance”); not uncoincidentally, as with Jean-Paul Gaultier, his French counterpart, McQueen earned for himself—as may also be said of John Galliano—a reputation for being a brilliant (and consummate) showman and a provocateur. For Alexander McQueen, his shows were highly autobiographical—as he had long maintained.


In the words (and opinion) of Vanity Fair's Michael Roberts, McQueen's “mission in life would seem to have been to astonish the bourgeoisie not just with spectacle but with a polemical use of sex and violence, as well as some of the most fantastic clothes ever to grace the catwalk....recreating insane asylums, arctic blizzards, rainstorms, scenes of carnage with burning cars. He featured a double-amputee model in one show and subjected dresses to spray-painting robots used in car-assembly factories in another. Models could be trussed like mummies with their feet bound, weighed down in dresses fashioned from hundreds and thousands of feathers, or, thanks to prosthetics, look like bald-headed monsters from the pit. And that was when he wasn’t in a misogynistic mood. His aesthetic would wander from the ghoulish to the balletic, from the floral and swooningly dramatic back to some nightmarish science-fiction horror the following season.” (Quote: Roberts, M., Vanity Fair, 2010)
 
(Sources: Horyn, C., The Year In Style, The New York Times, January 1, 2012; Alexander McQueen, Voguepedia, undated; Roberts, M., Alexander McQueen, Vanity Fair, February 11, 2010; Alexander McQueen, A True Master, WWD, February 11, 2010; Mower, S., Alexander McQueen, Style.com, October 5, 2009; Bolton, A., & Koda, H., Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, 2011; Quek, S-W., The dA-Zed Guide to Isabella Blow, Dazed Digital, November 2013)
 
 

 
Marcus Schenkenberg as a golden ‘Icarus’
(Alexander McQueen's début for Givenchy Haute Couture ~ January 1997)
Image courtesy of SHOWstudio
 
 

 
The geographical distance between London and Paris may only be 213.73 miles, but the cultural distance and sensibilities between both cities could not be farther apart.  London—the world's leading international financial and business centre, with its patchwork of cultural diversity and cultural clashes—is as equally urbane as it is divergent from Georges-Eugène Haussmann's picturesque Parisian boulevards; similarly, the halls and class-rooms of Central Saint Martins are as far removed and remote from the hallowed couture salons and ateliers of some of France's greatest fashion Houses as the British and French capitals are from one another. As was the case with John Galliano before him, Alexander McQueen—who, during the course of his career, ingeniously recreated every conceivable weather condition and natural element as scenic backdrop for the presentation of some of his collections: the dynamic forces of rain, snow storms, and howling wind (and not disregarding fire, either), were all harnessed and employed to memorable effect—managed to bridge the distance.


January 19th, 1997, and Paris is abuzz with curiosity as well as tremendous expectation. At only twenty-seven, Alexander McQueen presented his very first haute couture collection—for which he had only eleven weeks to design and prepare—for Givenchy: “It took Galliano 13 years from leaving St Martins to get his foot in the door of a couture house,” The Independent's Tamsin Blanchard observed a couple of days after the event; It has taken McQueen less than five(Quote: Blanchard, T., The Independent, 1997). (Before M. Arnault's choice finally settled on Alexander McQueen, the position of creative control at Givenchy had first been offered to—but declined by—Jean-Paul Gaultier, long-acclaimed, and reputed to be, as  l'enfant terrible of French fashion). Critically, McQueen's début at Givenchy—a collection mainly in gold and white (“symbolic of the Givenchy label with its Grecian insignia[Quote: Blanchard, T., The Independent, 1997] and, in part, a homage to the great Maria Callas, with male model Marcus Schenkenberg—magnificently winged and  perched on a balcony—overlooking the proceedings in his silent role as a golden Icarus)—was less than fulsomely received by the fashion press. (It may be recalled that, just one year earlier, Galliano's début at Givenchy was also unveiled to mixed reviews. But in the case of McQueen's début, however, the press—the French in particular—was vehement in its condemnation, referring to McQueen as a “British hooligan” and hurling such epithets as “Las Vegas” and “costume party” at his first collection for the House. Michael Roberts' assessment was equally unfavourable: “he attempted to play with a classical-Greek theme. It resulted in costumes that looked like rejects from a remake of  Jason and the Argonauts. It was not his finest hour.” [Quote: Roberts, M., Vanity Fair, 2010]) Unlike other past couture ‘moments’ and débuts,  it was, by most accounts, a failure. McQueen's second Givenchy Autumn-Winter 1997/1998 Haute Couture collection, presented in July 1997, the ominously titled “Eclect Dissect,” fared better.
 

With the benefit of timely hindsight, it may be surmised that what may have initially attracted M. Arnault to McQueen as a replacement for Galliano at Givenchy (announced on October 14th, 1996)—his daring sense of (British) aesthetic; his shock value; his confrontational attitude; his provocative media manipulation; his raw energy and prodigious creativity (he was reputed to sketch an entire collection in one day, in one sitting); his fearless outspokenness; his subversive nature; even, perhaps, his Cockney crudities—also made for an uneasy tenure for the young designer, contractually tethered as he was to a multinational luxury goods conglomerate and labouring under the weight—and pressure—of a world-class brand. While it was a brilliant move on the part of M. Arnault to install a young, firebrand British designer with a well-honed reputation for ‘shock’ at the helm of one of France's most revered fashion Houses, temperamentally, the contrast was an ill-fit. (“Fashion should be a form of escapism, and not a form of imprisonment,” he once said in a 2009 interview, a year before his death. “I wasn’t born to give you a twin set and pearls.” [Quote: WWD, February 2010]) Inevitably, McQueen  soon chafed—creatively—under the strains and constrictions of his post. (McQueen's contentious—and less-than-enamoured—stint as creative director at Givenchy endured for close to five years, from 1996-2001, before a major quarrel with M. Arnault terminated his position at Givenchy, where he was followed thereafter by Julien MacDonald, from 2001-2004; since February 2005, Riccardo Tisci—another Central Saint Martins graduate—has been the House's more successful creative director.) For his part, McQueen was never hesitant in publicly expressing his unhappiness at Givenchy and was often vocal about his discontent with the corporate and commercial sides of the fashion industry in general.
 
 
(It may be argued, nonetheless, that some of the most beautiful and poignant collections of McQueen's career were those he produced for the House of Givenchy. Creatively speaking,  there are those who work better under professional strain than do others; perhaps McQueen was one of those individuals who utilize such irritation—or the stress of their antagonistic relationships with others—to their own advantage: like some small, irritable piece of shell or a stray grain of sand that becomes accidentally lodged within an oyster's sensitive flesh where it cannot be expelled, the oyster's body instinctively reacts to the foreign object by assuming defensive action: it begins to secrete a smooth, iridescent substance—known as ‘nacre’—around the irritant in order to protect itself, easing the irritation and, by that, gaining some form of comfort. As long as the foreign irritant remains within its body, the oyster continues to secrete nacre around it, layer upon nacreous layer until, eventually, the irritant is completely embedded within the successive, countless nacreous coatings; the final result being a lustrous pearl. The friction McQueen experienced during his term at Givenchy may be comparable to—and not unlike—the irritation endured by an oyster and the consequent creation of a pearl; it may precisely have been the very fuel needed to propel his creativity forward and produced such indelible collections under such trying circumstances.)


In spite of it all, however, the designer greatly respected the superb craft and skills of the couture ateliers; the exposure to the fine capacities of French couture had a lasting influence on his own creations—as oftentimes happens with designers who have the opportunity to work in an haute couture House for an extended period of time—with garments in McQueen's prêt-à-porter collections often “resembling couture in workmanship as well as price, usually made-to-order(Quote: WWD, February 2010). (In terms of sophistication of cut, fabrics, quality of construction and craftsmanship, this is fundamentally true of McQueen's post-Givenchy collections, the latter work of his career in particular—as can evidently be seen in the designer's superb but unfinished, posthumous Autumn-Winter 2010 collection.)
(Sources: Blanchard, T., Givenchy swings back to the future, The Independent, January 21, 1997; Spindler, A. M., Zut! British Infiltrate French Fashion, The New York Times, October 15, 1996; Alexander McQueen, A True Master, WWD, February 11, 2010)
 



 
Crane Vs. Tiger
Alexander McQueen | PUMA Spring/Summer 2010 campaign
(Directed by Alexander McQueen & Nick Knight ~ Autumn 2009)
Above left image, courtesy of: Yatzer | Above right image, courtesy of: SHOWstudio

  
 

 
For all its glittering veneer of glamour, as a business, the fashion industry can be disconcertingly corrosive; it has an insidious tendency of preying on (and magnifying) self-doubt, self-image and other deep-rooted insecurities such as the quest for validation with its incessant need for affirmation and praise. The freighted pressures of the fashion system (the creative exhaustion of producing multiple collections per season, with the added expectation of each new collection having to outflank the one before it)—along with creating and sustaining a global brand—are simultaneously enormous and unremitting, leaving many in the industry to contend with these pressures—as well as such accompanying mental illnesses as depression—by turning to drugs and/or alcohol: substance abuse becomes the obvious, at-hand coping mechanism; as was the case with Steven Robinson, Isabella Blow and Alexander McQueen (among many), sometimes with fatal consequences.
 
 
With the shocking death of Alexander McQueen (he had apparently slit his wrists and taken a lethal mixture of cocaine and prescription drugs—sleeping pills and tranquillisers—before finally hanging himself in his wardrobe and dying of asphyxiation) on February 11th, 2010 (the eve of his mother's funeral, who had died nine days earlier), followed—one year later—by Mr. Galliano's abrupt termination of his contract and equally stunning (and immediate) dismissal from Christian Dior on March 1st, 2011, their legendary collections and presentations have now passed, definitively, into the mists of fashion lore. (Having already given an interview with Vanity Fair's contributing editor, Ingrid Sischy, for the magazine's July 2013 issue, a sober and markedly more subdued John Galliano, then 52 at the time, agreed to sit down for nearly an hour with ‘one of America's premier interviewers,’ talk-show host and journalist Charlie Rose, for an in-depth conversation on his nightly PBS program—the first televised interview the designer had given in twenty-seven months since his fall from grace and subsequent rehabilitation—on Wednesday, June the 12th, 2013, in which he frankly discussed his early life as well as the highlights and consequent pitfalls of his ensuing career. As for the House of McQueen, it has—since the passing of Lee—been under the capable direction of Sarah Burton since May 2010, when Ms. Burton—who, by the time of his death, had already been Lee's close assistant for more than fourteen years—assumed the role of creative director. Alexander McQueen—as a brand—has not only survived its founder's death but has flourished; it is now considered to be one of the world's premier fashion Houses.) (Sources: Camber, R., Revealed: The cocktail of drugs Alexander McQueen took before hanging himself in wardrobe, Mail Online, April 28, 2010; Jones, S., Alexander McQueen hanged himself after taking drugs, The Guardian, April 28, 2010)




(Music by Björk)
Video courtesy  of: SHOWstudio ~ YouTube
 
 

Since the death of Alexander McQueen and the dismissal of John Galliano from the House of Dior, the Galliano and McQueen aesthetic codes—and mystiques—have not only informed the collections of a new generation of young designers but have exerted their transformative influence, which continues to reverberate, on their aesthetics as well. (Like a thin vein of ore erratically coursing its way through layers of rock, that very same Galliano-McQueen spark of influence on present-day fashions and designers is easily detectable—here and there, either in collections or on ‘red carpet’ events—to anyone familiar with their work.) Like two piratical buccaneers, each in his own distinctive way, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen scaled the most privileged bastions, the very pinnacle of fashion: French haute couture. By introducing their particularly British sense of eccentricity into fashion, effortlessly melding age-old traditions, patterns and techniques with modern romanticism—while simultaneously injecting a hefty dose of much-needed glamour—they radicalized and redefined fashion.

 
In much the same respect as innovative French designers Claude Montana and Thierry Mugler shared a similar aesthetic sense yet maintained their own individual, unique style, so did John Galliano and Alexander McQueen share similar aesthetic viewpoints. Both designers possessed an authentic genius for reinterpreting, juxtaposing and collaging historical motifs and eclectic styles that straddled disparate cultures—the Weimar Republic, unfamiliar African and American societies, Japonism, Oriental souks and harems, little-known and exotic Indigenous tribal clans and cultures (Galliano—who is nothing if not a master at cross-cultural, cross-geographical referencing—is a known collector of vintage Native American photographs by Edward S. Curtis*; McQueen preferred collecting the somewhat unsettling photographic work of Joel-Peter Witkin*), far-off continents and vanished centuries (not excluding some imagined, unrealised distant future), once-glamorous but faded and now-forgotten silent film stars, the high-spirited Belle Époque (along with some of that era's more abiding femmes fatales and splendid demi-mondaines), Victorian Gothicism, and even, at one McQueen presentation, the Salem Village, Massachusetts, infamous Witch Trials of 1692—all were culled, integrated and effortlessly grafted with Parisian chic and sensibility to form defiantly exuberant, hybrid  collections that could only be described as ‘cultural bazaars’ and runway presentations (and scenarios) as glorified Ziegfeldian ‘tableaux vivants’ set against equally fantastical backdrops and Cecil B. DeMille-worthy filmic sets. (Studies in startling extravagance, their mise en scène, narrative presentations became the ‘blueprints’ that galvanized other designers and inspired the method by which they began—and still continue—staging their own collections.) Throughout their respective careers, both designers opted to collaborate exclusively with their chosen milliners: Galliano with Stephen Jones; McQueen with Philip Treacy. And, when they needed to create their compelling images or disseminate—and assert—their equally potent aesthetic viewpoints through the photographic medium, more often than not, both designers elected to work with Nick Knight—a mark of trust in, and admiration for, the photographer's work as well as artistic sensibility. (Their collaborations with Knight were logical extensions of both designers' respective styles: Galliano as well as McQueen had such clearly defined, unmistakable visions and needed a photographer who not only understood their aims but able to successfully—and graphically—execute them to fruition, re-imagining the capabilities and achievements of contemporary haute couture.)
(*Sources: Specter, M., The FantasistThe New Yorker, September 22, 2003; Alexander McQueen, A True Master, WWD, February 11, 2010)
 

  
 
Björk photographed by Nick Knight
(Dress by Alexander McQueen)
Homogenic” sleeve cover (Art Directed by Alexander McQueen) ~ album released September 1997
(McQueen also directed  Björk's video, “Alarm Call” ~ the fourth track from “Homogenic”)
Image courtesy of: ototoy
 “The music of Homogenic is very close to the music I heard as a child. It's a very Icelandic record, especially as far as rhythm is concerned. But it's not a record that wasn't there yesterday; it's always been there, but just had to materialize. The sounds, the rhythms, the emotions, they've always been inside my head. I put them down on Homogenic. I look at it as a document. And the title of the record actually indicates that the music comes more or less from one direction: straight from the heart, because home is where the heart is. This time I didn't want too much intervention from others.” (Quote: Björk)

 
Devon Aoki ~ 1997
(Dress by Alexander McQueen | Photograph by Nick knight)
(Originally created for the 20th issue of Visionaire)
Image courtesy of: SHOWstudio
  



When John Galliano first succeeded as creative director at Dior, he and his team were faced with more than just the prospect (and daunting task) of rejuvenating a world-class brand; they faced the issue of reconceiving that brand's image on an international scale—Galliano's goal was to contemporise and translate hand-crafted haute couture creations into (commercially) persuasive advertisement campaigns able to entice the interest of a younger clientele base. These campaigns were, in turn, the (instrumental) vehicles for generating worldwide sales: by first deconstructing and then reconstructing the Dior brand and image anew, it was nothing short of the reawakening of a legendary but long-dormant fashion House into a relevant, globally viable brand once more. And for the first decade of Galliano's reign at Dior—from 1997-2007—the engine behind those ground-breaking Galliano-Dior advertisement campaigns was Nick Knight. (In an April 2007 interview with Alice Rawsthorn of The New York Times—for an article entitled Vision Quest—Knight recounted, “We had to rewrite the visual language of the brand. John had this idea of bouleversement, of swiping the carpet from underneath this established French house, so everything spun into fantastic chaos.” [Quote: Rawsthorn, A., Vision Quest, 2007])

 
In Nick Knight (HarperCollins, 2009), the genesis and (wildly successful and innovative) evolvement of the Galliano-Knight collaboration is outlined: “In 1996, when John Galliano took over as creative director of Dior, he called upon Knight to shape the global image reinvention of this legendary house of couture. Cutting against almost every direction that fashion advertising was taking in the mid-1990s, Knight and Galliano drew from photographic and painterly references from the turn of the previous century, presenting a poetic, refined, elegant, fantasy Dior woman in the Fall/Winter 1997-1998 advertising campaign. The expressive gestures of digital Paintbox fused with the delicacy of French boudoir paintings of the late nineteenth century and the social freedom of [French photographer] Jacques Henri Lartigue's photographs of privileged yet modern French society created a timely injection of old-fashioned sophistication into the representation of couture. In the second advertising campaign for the Spring/Summer 1998 collection, Galliano and Knight referenced the paintings of John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, creating an emphatic, arched elegance for corseted couture.
 
 
Two years later, in spring 2000, Galliano and Knight regrouped and assigned a new lexicon to the house of Dior. Knight's challenge was to reimagine Dior within Galliano's new frame of reference that threw out the historicized refinement of his first collections in favor of aggressive, contemporary sexuality and style. Citing the dynamism of animation and cartoon graphics in the Fall/Winter 2001-02 Dior campaign, and calling upon the talents of digital retoucher Allan Finamore [director of Epilogue Imaging], Knight realigned the house of Dior with contemporary aesthetics. His process was both old and new: Using the widest-angle lens for a traditional 8 X 10 camera, Knight elongated and exaggerated the proportions of the models' bodies. Utilizing the performances of the most physically skillful models, including Gisele Bündchen, Angela Lindvall, and Liberty Ross, he orchestrated the first layer of image manipulation. He used the luscious tangibility of 8 X 10-inch Polaroid film to depict their flesh, and color transparency film for the sharpest delineation of Galliano's collection. These advertising campaigns were where Knight took full authorship of the essential post-production process—merging elements from up to twenty photographs into one visual tapestry that mirrored the richness of Galliano's layering of diverse references to create a radical point of aesthetic departure in fashion history.
 
 
At every stage of the process of constructing the image of contemporary Dior, Knight was experimenting with the limits of photographic processes. He aligns his continued testing of the medium's boundaries to his training in science and, specifically, to the idea that his photographic inquiries are not dictated by immediate judgment of success or failure but, rather, the experimental process by which he discovers new ways of seeing.” (Quote: Nick Knight, HarperCollins, 2009:13-14)
(Sources: Unseen Galliano for Dior Images by Nick KnightSHOWstudio, April 1, 2014; Rawsthorn, A., Vision Quest, The New York Times, April 15, 2007; Knight, N., Nick Knight, HarperCollins, 2009)

 
 

Image courtesy of: AnOther Magazine
 
Above left image, courtesy of: SHOWstudio | Above right image, courtesy of: Pinterest
 
Above left image, courtesy of: Something Vain | Above right image, courtesy of: Kill for Fashion
(The above photos are by Nick Knight)
(Mullins's wooden fan jacket:  Givenchy Haute Couture | Toole's wooden fan skirt: Alexander
McQueen)
Para-Olympian & record-holder Aimee Mullins & dancer/actor David Toole, part of the “Access-able” editorial ~ Dazed & Confused,  ‘Fashion Able?’ | September 1998:No. 46
(Concept by Alexander McQueen | Styling by Katy England)
 
 


While Knight's Dior campaigns—(under the creative direction of Galliano)—are probably among his most visible (and internationally commercial) works to date, no less important were his (unconventional) collaborations with Alexander McQueen—many of which appeared in magazine editorials and feature articles. The main difference being that, whereas Knight and Galliano had to work within the parametric codes of a well-established House with a long and fabled history behind it, with the House of McQueen, Knight had the chance of not only working directly with a living, new designer—a young designer who was also the founder of a new House—but Knight was presented with the opportunity of shaping the images of both designer and House at the initial stage, (practically) from the beginning. More significantly, Alexander McQueen was a decisive creator—albeit, one with an unorthodox sense of (and appreciation for) beauty—with a well-defined concept of what his own projected (personal) image to the world should be as well as a determined vision (and direction) for his House.

 


Aimee Mullins's hand-carved wooden legs ~ Alexander McQueen's Spring-Summer 1999 collection, “No. 13
Above left image, courtesy of: In Korkie | Above right image, courtesy of: The Channel




A prime example (out of several)—and one that adequately serves our purpose here—of a typical, ongoing McQueen-Knight collaborative effort from the late 1990s (such as Björk's 1997 “Homogenic” album sleeve cover) can be gleaned from the September 1998 special edition of London's Dazed & Confused magazine, which was guest-edited and Art Directed by Alexander McQueen (styled by Katy England). In that issue (entitled ‘Fashion Able?’), Para-Olympian athlete Aimee Mullins, along with dancer/actor David Toole, were two of the chosen models. (A competitor in the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, Mullins also walked in one of McQueen's shows, the Spring-Summer 1999 collection, “No. 13,” in which McQueen specially created for her a pair of beautifully hand-carved elm-wood prosthetic legs. Likewise, Toole has had an extensive career as both a dancer as well as an actor, working with a multitude of theatre companies around the world, notably the United Kingdom's famed Royal Shakespear Company; Toole performed as part of the 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony.*) The real significance of this groundbreaking editorial (dubbed ‘Access-able’), however, lies in the fact that in choosing ‘physically challenged’ or ‘dis-abled’ models such as Mullins and Toole, instead of any one of the world's leading models, Nick Knight and Alexander McQueen clearly illustrated  their capacity to not only visualise and present atypical modes of fashion but also their willingness to embrace—and, by the same token, promote—principles of beauty—(thereby challenging traditional preconceptions of what is considered to be ‘beautiful’)—which are essentially divergent from those more socially-acceptable forms so readily seen everywhere; this in a conforming industry that is renowned for its endorsement of beauty images and ideals—ideals which are, more often than not, digitally altered or enhanced—that are impossible to attain. (*Sources: Aimee Mullins, undated; David Toole, undated)


In Fashion at the Edge: Spectacle, Modernity and Deathliness (Yale University Press, 2003 & 2007), author Caroline Evans describes Mullins (as she appeared in the Dazed & ConfusedAccess-able editorial) as “a fragile and pretty doll, her prosthetic legs reminding us of her phantasmagoric predecessor, the shop-window dummy and its uncanny ghosting of the corporeal woman. For this image she applied her own chipped nail varnish to, and smudged dirt on, her moulded plastic legs to echo the chipped polish and grime of her ‘real’ fingernails. The picture evoked a run-down mechanical doll, the ghost of the past wound down and come to a halt, appropriately frozen in the deathly gaze of the camera. One might think that the woman as spectacle and commodity had returned full force, were it not for the contradictory image on the cover of the magazine [see image above] of the model in her running shorts and the flexed metal sprinting legs with which she won the Paralympics—sporty, alert and ready to race, an allegorical image of the future at the turn of the century.” (Quote: Evans, C.,  Fashion at the Edge: Spectacle, Modernity and Deathliness, Yale University Press, 2003 & 2007:188)

 
  
 
I always work in the future tense. As a photographer, you never see the moment you’re recording. When you press the button, the flash goes off and overstimulates the retina; or you look into the camera, the shutter goes down and it goes black. You’re always working in a pre-emptive, intuitive way. The future is where I find myself most of the time, and it’s an odd place to be.” ~ Nick Knight
 
 
  




(Ensemble by Gareth Pugh | Model: Julia Stegner | Photos by Nick Knight)
The above five images are courtesy of: Hypebeast
 



But of all of his accomplishments as a photographer, Nick Knight's greatest (and, perhaps, proudest) professional achievement is his foundation—in Noemeber of 2000—of the award-winning, interactive, engaging fashion and film website, SHOWstudio—‘The Home of Fashion Film’ (as it is tagged)—of which he is also the Director. The principal showcase of SHOWstudio is its innovative work in fashion film, interviews, and documentaries, which is not limited strictly to a studio-controlled environment but at times takes the form of Internet live-streaming of fashion shows/events and fashion photo shoots, “allowing an international audience instant and unparalleled access to the previously closed world of high fashion. Inspired by the inherent generosity of the verb 'to show', SHOWstudio opens up the studio of designers and artists, allowing everyone to not only witness the creative process, but to respond and contribute creatively, documenting, communicating and evaluating the results.”


As a prime (and respected) arena for international creatives such as designers, models, as well as some of the world's pop culture icons, artists, actors, film-makers and writers, SHOWstudio has, over its fourteen year history, worked with some of the most acclaimed (and upcoming) personalities on the planet: designers Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Rick Owens, Comme des Garçons (while also encouraging some lesser known, younger designers—such as Giles Deacon, Gareth Pugh, Rodarte and Mary Katrantzou—by providing them with a platform on which to instantaneously exhibit their talents and collections to a worldwide audience on a global scale); models such as the iconic Kate Moss (muse to so many designers and the inspiration of so many collections throughout her long modelling career), Alek Wek, Lily Cole and Tatjana Patitz; and Tracey Emin, Björk, Brad Pitt and Lady Gaga, representing celebrities from the world of art, music and film—have all collaborated with Nick Knight and his SHOWstudio team on cutting-edge projects (creating “visionary online content, exploring every facet of fashion through moving image, illustration, photography and the written word”).
 
 
With a whole range of fashion films on display and from which to select, SHOWstudio's film projects offer the viewer a unique and fascinating insight into the creative process—from start to fisnish—from the minds of the world's fashion-and-trend setters; it is not only entertaining, but enlightening and informative. Out of a selection of many, a few of the more memorable films include: “Transformer” (in July of 2002, Alexander McQueen, Erin O’Connor, Juergen Teller, Katy England and Bobby Gillespie were all invited by Nick Knight to participate in this project in which each contributor was asked “to devise an act of transformation that held personal significance for them, inspired by the continual metamorphic potential of fashion imagery.” In Alexander McQueen's film project, entitled “The Bridegroom Stripped Bare,” a suited male model—in the role of a white-faced bridegroom—is ‘transformed’ into a veiled bride by way of cutting, slashing, binding and painting of his formerly male-identified suit; this was the first SHOWstudio fashion shoot to be broadcast live on the Internet via webcam—“revealing the working methodologies that underpin contemporary fashion image-making in real time”—in which worldwide audiences were encouraged to submit live ‘interview’ questions, by e-mail, to the participants regarding their “ideas, motivations and progress, creating a two-way dialogue between the event and its audience”), “Past, Present & Couture” (the result of a five-day photographic shoot and composed of fourteen images, “Past, Present and Couture” formed part of an exhibition that celebrated John Galliano's first five-year term at the House of Christian Dior. As the SHOWstudio described it: the session “offered the opportunity to reveal the ‘blood and guts’ of the process of creating a set of virtuoso photographs.” John Galliano personally selected a single outfit—representing an haute couture collection presented over those same five years, from Spring-Summer 1997 through  to Spring-Summer 2002—and his favourite models for each ensemble, which included: Karen Elson, Liberty Ross, Stella Tennant, Erin O’Connor, and Alek Wek), and “Le Mauvais Garçon” (a SHOWstudio exclusive: a brief, black-and-white film—reminiscent of Hollywood movies of the 1930s—which features Galliano in his atelier as he and his team of assistants prepare for the Autumn-Winter 2007 collection, due only days before its scheduled presentation). (Source & quotes: SHOWstudio, 2000-2014)
 



SHOWstudio is based on the belief that showing the entire creative process—from conception to completion—is beneficial for the artist, the audience and the art itself.”
~ Nick Knight




Image courtesy of: Artpedia

 


Under Her Spell” ~ Vogue UK, February 2010
(Model: Natalia Vodianova | Photographs by Nick Knight)
The above six images are courtesy of: Fashion Gone Rogue

 

 
Whether he is shooting the cover of British Vogue, an advertising campaign for Swarovski or an album sleeve for Björk, Knight pushes himself relentlessly, experimenting with complex technologies to ensure that each new image is even more beautifully composed than the last.” ~ Alice Rawsthorn
(Quote: Rawsthorn, A., Vision Quest, The New York Times, April 15, 2007)
 






 
The Sound of Clothes: Synaesthesia
(A collaboration between Nick Knight, digital artist Daniel Brown & sound designer Nick Ryan)
Polaroids of illuminated mannequins photographed backstage during Nick Knight's editorial shoot for POP Magazine ~ November 2005
(Frock coat & jackets are by Nicolas Ghesquiere: Balenciaga Spring/Summer 2006 Collection)
The above eight images are courtesy of: SHOWstudio




Inevitably, such a lengthy career—however brilliant and accomplished—is not without criticism. ‘Emotionally detached’ is a label that has been leveled against Knight's work; or, as Alice Rawsthorn mentions in Vision Quest, her 2007 New York Times T Style Magazine profile of Knight, critics have also pointed out that, “in his pursuit of aesthetic perfection, he treats his models as compositional elements, not individuals.” Although Rawsthorn concedes to the truth of such analysis (that “he conveys little of their [the models'] characters”), she also alludes to the fact that Knight “always imbues his subjects with dignity, and sought-after models like Kate Moss and Gemma Ward choose to work with him repeatedly.” Specifically, Rawsthorn adds that Kate Moss particularly enjoys her photographic sessions with Knight, even directly quoting the model's fondness for  ‘the intensity of being in front of his 8 by 10.’ (Another clue to Kate Moss's delight in working in front of Knight's camera—and a key to understanding and appreciating Knight's success—is his ‘gentlemanly manner,’ his ability to put his subjects at ease. In the same New York Times article, Robin Derrick recalled one photographic session with an apprehensive Ms. Moss: “Once I’d asked Kate Moss to do a nude for him. She was undecided, so she stood behind a sheet and Nick started taking her picture. Suddenly she dropped the sheet and stood before him full frontal. Nick said,That’s smashing, Kate.’ And carried on. That’s Nick, always polite, always appropriate, and the only person I know who sayssmashing.’”) (Quotes: Rawsthorn, A., Vision Quest, 2007)


Conversely, such a varied and innovative career is just as bound to garner some form of recognition as well. For one thing, Nick Knight's work has been exhibited in no less prestigious institutions than the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Saatchi Gallery, The Photographers' Gallery, the Hayward Gallery and the Tate Modern. For another, on July 13th, 2006, it was announced—on the SHOWstudio Website—that Knight would be awarded the  Möet & Chandon Fashion Tribute. (Established in 1998, past recipients of the award have included designers Vivienne Westwood and Matthew Williamson, as well as haute milliner Philip Treacy.)


For his award night, Knight decided to forgo the conventional dinner and throw a lavish Masked Ball, in its stead, at Horace Walpole's (1717-1797) Gothic-revival castle, Strawberry Hill. Built by Walpole to house his extensive—and eclectic—collections of art, antiquities and curios, Strawberry Hill (located at 268 Waldegrave Road, Twickenham and which Walpole once described as  his ‘plaything house’)—based as it was on Gothic cathedrals and abbeys, with its arched doorways, rose windows, carved screens and other Gothically-inspired ornamentations—was intended by its creator to provide a theatrical experience for the visitor. It was, therefore, the perfect setting for Knight's 2006 fête (held on the evening of Tuesday, the 24th of October). For the event—broadcast live on SHOWstudio—which was attended by “A wealth of international personalities from the world of fashion, photography, film, music, and art who have previously worked with Nick,” the photographer invited nine designers (and one stylist) to create dresses to be specifically worn by their chosen muses to the event (Quote: SHOWstudio, 2000-2014). (Sources: SHOWstudio, 2000-2014; Strawberry Hill, undated; Rawsthorn, A., Vision Quest, The New York Times, April 15, 2007; Craven, J., Vogue | Nick Knight, May 11, 2011)





 

Gemma Ward in “The Sound of Clothes: Synaesthesia
(A collaboration between Nick Knight, digital artist Daniel Brown & sound designer Nick Ryan for the Spring 2006 issue of POP Magazine)
(Garments by Nicolas Ghesquiere: Balenciaga Spring/Summer 2006 Collection)
The above six images are courtesy of: SHOWstudio




Awards, professional recognition and a high-profile life aside, Nick Knight leads a surprisingly domestic life (“There is a division between the way I work and the comfort and reassurance of the way I live[Quote: Rawsthorn, A., Vision Quest, 2007]). Happily married to long-time companion—and agent—Charlotte Wheeler (Knight met Wheeler in 1986, when she arrived at his studio as a student intern. As she recalled their first encounter, “Nick opened the door and said, ‘You’ve got to take this portfolio into London.’ I thought, ‘What a po-faced one.’” Although Knight did not make a favourable first impression on Wheeler, she had a radically opposite effect on him: “I fell completely in love with her,” as he once forthrightly admitted in an interview with Alice Rawsthorn for The New York Times [2007]. “I couldn’t think of a possible moment I wanted to be separated from her. When we first met, I was so aggressive, difficult, questioning and wronged. Charlotte calmed me,” further acknowledging, She’s everything to me. My inspiration, my mentor, my muse[Quotes: Rawsthorn, A., Vision Quest, 2007]); the couple have three children together and live in Petersham, a suburb southwest of London.  (Petersham is part of Richmond upon Thames, an outer borough of London—established in 1965—and comprised from the amalgamated boroughs of Barnes and Richmond, east of the Thames, which belong to the county of Surrey which, with Twickenham, are historically part of Middlesex. It is also a consolidation of other villages and areas, including: Castelnau, Kew, Mortlake, East Sheen, Richmond, Whitton, Ham, Hanworth, Teddington, Hampton Hill, Hampton, and Hampton Wick.) Historically speaking, the area of Richmond upon Thames is home to significant edifices and sites: Hampton Court Palace, a royal residence closely associated with Henry VIII notable for its stately gardens, particularly its famed  Great Fountain Garden, designed by John Rose and completed in the 1660s under Charles II; the remains of another Tudor building, Richmond Palace used by Elizabeth I (it had been rebuilt by Henry VII on location of a former medieval palace—the Palace of Shene—which was destroyed by fire in 1497 and had previously been occupied by several monarchs, Edward III and Henry V being among them); White Lodge, Richmond Park (currently the home of the Royal Ballet School); Ham House (now belonging to the National Trust); the above-mentioned Horace Walpole's eighteenth-century Gothic structure, the gleaming-white Strawberry Hill (where Knight held his celebratory 2006 Masked Ball); and the world-famous Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.


The Knights' own home was designed and built by British architect David Chipperfield. The first house was built between 1989 and 1990 on what had been the site of Nick Knight's original 1950s suburban childhood home—the house where he was born and raised. Nine years later, Knight purchased the house next door, demolished it, and commissioned the firm of David Chipperfield Architects to build a second house on the site. The new house—built between 1998 and 2001—(with its emphasis on views, natural light, and space) is a series of connecting concrete and glass cubes that look out onto a relatively young forest of silver birches. According to the David Chipperfield site, “the architectural concept for the new addition placed an archetypal house form—with pitched roof and two gabled ends—alongside the original house. This new element was then connected to the existing house via an abstracted glass box(Quote: David Chipperfield Architects, undated).
(Sources: Richmond upon Thames, Encyclopedia Britannica, 2013; Rawsthorn, A., Vision Quest, The New York Times, April 15, 2007)


 



 
 
the above four images are courtesy of: SHOWstudio
  
The above image is courtesy of: We Are Selecters
 “Hatstand” a SHOWstudio film by Nick Knight, Philip Treacy & Ruth Hogben
 
 
 
(Film by Nick Knight, Philip Treacy, Katy England, Darren Berry & Ruth Hogben)
SHOWstudio ~ YouTube

 
 

 
Grace Bol for Philip Treacy ~ “Hatstand
(Wearing Michael Jackson's stage wardrobe)
Editorial images & video in celebration of milliner Philip Treacy's return to London Fashion Week in September 2012
The above six images are courtesy of: SHOWstudio

 
 

“...photography is all about manipulation, and as it’s evolved, it’s become more manipulative in every way. I’ve never seen photography as a truthful medium.” Nick Knight has gone on record as saying. “It’s about individual perceptions of reality, and that’s what people want to see.” (Quote: Rawsthorn, A., Vision Quest, 2007)
 
 
A truthful medium or not, a great photograph is a bit more than a great image; it is, more than anything else, a powerful vehicle, one which is able to capture a specific, transitory second and, frozen in time—like an insect trapped within a lump of Cretaceous amber—project it into perpetuity. But it is more than crystallizing an image in time: a dynamic photograph is also capable of conveying (and evoking) emotions—a not inconsequential feat. Reliant as it is on sight, that apprehension and projection of the (photographic) image has—much like the other senses: smell, hearing, taste and touch—the added dimension of a compelling connectivity to memory. To borrow the tag-line from a once-famous advertisement campaign—a campaign created by copywriter Jane Trahey and photographed (from 1968 until 1994), incidentally, by the renowned Richard Avedon—it is “What Becomes A Legend Most.”
 
 

 
Above left, Georgia May Jagger (in Victoria Beckham) | Above right, Lily Donaldson (in Vivienne Westwood)
Above left & right images are courtesy of: The English Group
  
Kate Moss (in Alexander McQueen)
Above image courtesy of: Vogue UK
 
 Above left, Naomi Campbell (in Alexander McQueen) | Above right, Lily Cole (in Erdem)
Above left & right images are courtesy of: The English Group 
 
Stella Tennant (in Christopher Kane) | Karen Elson (in Burberry)
Above left image, courtesy of: Life in pics | Above right image, courtesy of: Modelinia
The above seven photographs form part of the “Midas Touch” editorial, shot for the Sepember 2012 issue of Vogue UK (styled by Lucinda Chambers)
 
 
 

The above two images form part of the Autumn-Winter 2011 Hermès campaign by Nick Knight
A bastion of French luxury given a modern twist: Nick Knight's Autumn/Winter 2011 campaign for Hermès reinterprets the artisan tradition and hand-craft synonymous with Hermès for the twenty-first century.” ~ (Images & quote: SHOWstudio)
(Photographs by Nick Knight)
 
 

Hermès Autumn Winter 2011/2012 By Nick Knight
Video courtesy of: Darrel Hunter ~ YouTube
(Fashion film by Nick Knight)


 
 

Image courtesy of: SHOWstudio
 
 
 
I don't want to reflect social change—I want to cause social change
 
 
 

Suggested readings:
 
 
 
Skinhead (1982), by Nick Knight: Omnibus Press
 
Flora (1997; reprinted in 2000 & 2004), by Nick Knight & Sandra Knapp: Harry N. Abrams
 
Nickknight (1997), by Nick Knight & Satoko Nakahara: Te Neues Pub Group
 
The Impossible Image: Fashion Photography In The Digital Age (2000), by Nick Knight, Mark Sanders, Phil Poynter & Robin Derrick: Phaidon
 
Plant Power (2005), by Nick Knight: Schirmer /Mosel Verlag Gm
 
Nick Knight (2009), by Nick Knight: HarperCollins

Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! (2014), by Alistair O'Neill, Caroline Evans, Alexander Fury, Shonagh Marshall & Nick Knight: Rizzoli