John Galliano: the archetype of a neurotic era

I have always thought that fashion and its whole system is a representation of “l’air du temps”, both the bad and the good. Consequently, I think that analysing this industry is, to a lesser extent, like analysing our own society. The book Fashion at the edge by Caroline Evans, highlights this relationship between fashion and the zeitgeist, and especially that of antifashion with the neurosis’s characteristics of the end of the 20th century. The author analyses the fashion shows of John Galliano, whose obvious opulence is describing as a way of escaping the reality of an era in crisis.

To understand to what extent Galliano’s fashion shows, reflect an era, we will first define what modernity is and the concept of tigerleap, then we will briefly review the life of the famous designer before seeing how the show Fall/winter 1997 reflects a contemporary crisis.

Modernity according to Caroline Evans

Modernity is defined by Marshall Berman as a trinum of terms composed of modernization, modernity, and modernism. Here is the definition of these three terms, presented on pages 7 and 8 in the book Fashion at the Edge.

Modernisation: “refers to the process of scientific, technological, industrial, economic and political innovation that also become urban, social and artistic in their impact.”

Modernity: “refers to the way that modernisation infiltrates everyday life and permeates sensibilities”

Modernism: “a wave of avant-garde artistic movement that, from early in the twentieth century, in some way responded to or represented these changes in sensibility and experience”

Modernity in the 20th century

Modernisation in the 20th century is characterised by the advent of many new technological developments such as mobile phones, the internet, and new medical and scientific imaging techniques

These technological changes have created a new capitalism, even more connected than before, where world trade is taking a prominent place and where barriers to trade hardly exist anymore. With this development of trade and population came the growth of urbanisation, a movement that had a huge influence on the mentalities of the new inhabitants of the cities. Thus, this was also a time of modernity whose particularity, according to Elizabeth Wilson, was in its “most hallucinatory cultural aspects’, where there was ‘the confusion between the real and the not-real, the aesthetic obsessions, the vein of morbidity without tragedy, of irony without merriment, and the nihilistic critical stance towards authority, empty rebellion almost without political content”. Fashion at the edge p.9.

All these changes can be seen in fashion modernism, with the emergence of new designers like Rei Kawakubo, Martin Margiela or John Gallianio who, by borrowing the codes of past fashions, transcribe the ills of an era.

Seeing history as a labyrinth

To build her analyses of fashion modernism, C. Evans refers to W. Benjamin’s concept of tigerleap which she uses to create her metaphor of history as a labyrinth in order to analyse the fashion shows of the 1990s. The tigerleap is a theory of W. Benjamin’s who argues that history can only be understood by analysing present events with their corresponding past events.

“Benjamin set out to construct novel conceptions of historical time and historical intelligibility based on the relationship, not between the past and the present, but between the ‘then’ and the ‘now’, as brought together in images of the past. Each historically specific ‘now’ was understood to correspond to (in a Baudelairean sense), or to render legible, a particular ‘then’”. Walter Benjamin, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

From this definition, C. Evans derives the metaphor of the labyrinth. Basically, this metaphor consists of juxtaposing “contemporary images” with “historical images”, thus making it possible to relate the past to the present, as if they were similar except for a few differences.

“The metaphor of history as a labyrinth allows the juxtaposition of historical images with contemporary ones; as the labyrinth doubles back on itself what is most modern is reaveld as also having a relation to what is most old. Distant points in time wan become proximate at specific moments as their pats run close to each other. Although there is no repetition without difference” P.9 Fashion at the edge

This metaphor is quite relevant to analyse the collections of the designer J. Galliano, whose inspirations were drawn from the bourgeois classes of past centuries. Nevertheless, before analysing his fashion shows, let’s make a quick biography of this designer.

Galliano, a man representing his modernity

A whimsical genius, loved as much as hated, J. Galiano is one of the designers who best represents his time, marked by the expansion of global luxury houses, the intensification of the numbers of collections presented by brands and the pressure on designers.

After graduating from the Central Saint Martin School in 1988, J. Galliano started a brand under his own name. This first venture was a failure due to problems with his financial backers. Nevertheless, the help of Anna Wintour and André Léon Talley to produce his Spring/Summer 1993 show allowed him to be noticed by Bernard Arnault who entrusted him with the reins of Givenchy in 1995 before giving him the direction of Dior one year later. This was followed by glorious years for the house of Dior as well as for J. Galliano. However, the romance ended abruptly in 2011 after the publication of a video showing the artistic director in a state of inebriation and making anti-Semitic insults. He later dismissed the behaviour because of his state, explaining that the pressure associated with his role as creative director led him to become addicted to alcohol.

I am not sure that alcohol is a good reason to excuse his behaviour, but it is interesting to note how the changes in his time may have affected the director of Dior in a rather negative way.

In the end, perhaps J. Galliano’s shows were a response to the pressures they were under, a kind of escape from reality. We will now, from Galliano’s Fall1997 show, see how this designer represents the evil of an era.

Fall 1997: The femme fatale, an analysis of the symbols of an era of decay

John Galliano Fall 1997 Ready-to-Wear Fashion Show | Vogue / Salomé dansant | Panorama de l’art (

The setting of this show seems to take place in ancient Egypt, but a more blinged out and sultry Egypt where Cleopatras in light outfits follow one another. The outfit analysed by C.Evans on page 124 of Fashion at the Edge is composed of a transparent red dress and body underwear tattooed with various hieroglyphs, revealing the model’s private parts.

The look is paralleled with the painting of Gustave Moreau Dancing Salome. This work of art depicts the Old Testament episode where Herodias, an adulterous wife and incestuous mother, asks her daughter Salome to charm King Herod by performing a dance at a dinner party to get him to execute the prophet John the Baptist, who was harassing Herodias with reprimands for her conduct.

This Old Testament scene depicted by the painter Gustave Moreau, has been described in Joris-Karl Huysmans’ short story A Rebours as “the symbolic incarnation of world-old Vice, the goddess of immortal Hysteria, the Curse of Beauty supreme above all other beauties by the cataleptic spasm that stirs her flesh and steels her muscles — a monstrous Beast of the Apocalypse, unconcerned, unresponsive, insensitive, poisoning.” Art review: ‘A Strange Magic: Gustave Moreau’s Salomé’ is absorbing — Los Angeles Times (

The representation of the femme fatale thus reveals both desire and fear towards women and their freedom. C. Evans sees in Galliano’s representation of women an ambivalence that resides in an apparent celebration, which hides a reification of women, represented as objects of desire. This can be seen in his collections, which remains unwearable to the common mortal.


Modernity :

Fashion at the edge, Caroline Evans

The world Is Flat : The Globalized World in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas.L Friedmann

WTO | Evolution of trade under the WTO: handy statistics

urbanization — Impact of the Industrial Revolution | Britannica

Galliano :

Essay: John Galliano — Modernity and Spectacle | SHOWstudio

John Galliano | BoF 500 | The People Shaping the Global Fashion Industry (

John Galliano describes rampant drug abuse in first interview since Dior firing | John Galliano | The Guardian

Fashion, Go global !*

John Galliano details the extent of his alcohol and drug abuse in first interview since anti-Semitic rant that cost him Dior job | Daily Mail Online

Fashion analyses

John Galliano Fall 1997 Ready-to-Wear Fashion Show | Vogue

Art review: ‘A Strange Magic: Gustave Moreau’s Salomé’ is absorbing — Los Angeles Times (

Salomé dansant | Panorama de l’art (



College student at iaelyon, i also post on instagram at @f2shiong2ek

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Dylan Hamada

College student at iaelyon, i also post on instagram at @f2shiong2ek