Dior Meets Disney World

HE DOESN'T DO UNDERWEAR, AND HE DOESN'T DO sunglasses. In fact, he doesn't have so much as a signature perfume. Yet Paris-based designer John Galliano is likely to have more influence on the way women dress in the next few years than some fashion stars who've turned their names into conglomerates and their talents down the path of least resistance. How original! This is a pivotal moment for fashion, with designers--and customers--on both sides of the Atlantic desperate for alternatives to waiflike skip dresses and grunged-out flannel. Much of the pack is herding toward structured clothes, doing tarry takeoffs on '70s glamour.

Galliano, 32, is less about where fashion has been than where it should be going. Yes, his spring '95 collection is structured, too. Yes, he draws from the past-- in his ease, the early '50s. But Galliano's clothes--especially his jackets with peplum waists and sculpted bosoms--embody an intelligent sophistication that goes beyond copying the past or following the herd. "It's kind of a Disney World view of Dior," says Richard Martin, curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "It's better, bigger than the real thing."

Not bad for a guy who used to send models down the runway with birds' nests in their hair. In the mid-'80s, when Galliano started out in London, he often confused beauty with the bizarre. Despite his innovations- he was among the first to turn out bias-cut gowns--he often trivialized his work. In 1990, Galliano opened a maison in Paris and acquired boosters in places like Women's Wear Daily and Vogue. And though he didn't abandon his wit, he concentrated on his wisdom. "I decided to stop listening and do things my way," he says.

Galliano's impact will take time to measure. He's now mentioned in the same breath as Vivienne Westwood and Valentino and as a possible successor to Hubert de Givenchy. And his sales have tripled in the last year, though they're still under $10 million. Still, with prices ranging from $800 for a camisole to $4,000 for an evening dress, few women can afford him. His real influence is likely to come as other designers-in other price brackets-emu-late his clothes. The designer shrugs. "I'm just a dressmaker." Yeah, right. The way he's going, Galliano sunglasses can't be far off.

Dior Meets Disney World | News