James Galanos, one of History’s great American Fashion Designers

5 Jun
James-GalanosJames Galanos, ph. Richard Avedon, 1975
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Hubert de Givenchy, the illustrious French couturier, ones looked at an inside of a James Galanos garment and exclaimed “… we don’t make them this well in Paris!”

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Short Biography

James Galanos was born in 1924 in Philadelphia, PA. After graduation from high school in 1942, Galanos enrolled at the Traphagen School of Fashion, in New York City. He completed two semesters before leaving to gain experience as a designer at the New York East 49th Street emporium of Hattie Carnegie. His job there turned out to be more clerical than creative, and, disappointed, Galanos left.

After a failed launch of a ready-to-wear dress business by textile magnate Lawrence Lesavoy, the intrepeneur agreed to send the 24-year-old Galanos to Paris, just as couture houses there were rebounding from the war. Couturier Robert Piguet absorbed the American into his stable of assistants, among whom were Pierre Balmain, Hubert de Givenchy and Marc Bohan. At the Piguet atelier, Galanos met with fabric and trimming suppliers to choose materials, sketched and draped up designs under the eye of Piguet, who oversaw his work on a daily basis.

American fashion designer James Galanos with supermodel Dovima in his studio, 1960.James Galanos with supermodel Dovima in his studio, 1960

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

In 1951, James Galanos decided to take a shot at California, and when the opportunity arose for him to open his own company, Galanos Originals, in 1952, he created a small collection, which was immediately ordered by Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. He then opened his New York showroom where a Neiman Marcus clothing buyer discovered him and predicted his styles would soon “set the world on fire.” Stanley Marcus, the president of Neiman Marcus, agreed and soon proclaimed that the greatest and most treasured luxury in the world for a woman to have would be a dress by James Galanos. Legendary magazine editors and style arbiters such as Diana Vreeland, Eleanor Lambert and Eugenia Sheppard became fans, ensuring that he would become a household name within months. From this first collection, his clothing has been admired for its particularly high quality, especially considering it was ready-to-wear, not custom-made. His chiffon dresses in particular made his reputation in the early 1950s, with their yards of meticulously hand-rolled edges. Many designers worked with chiffon, but Galanos was a true master of the genre.

Chiffon dresses 

1970's James Galanos

1959-61

1959-61 2

1960In 1953, Galanos embarked on another venture altogether – he began designing for movies. His first job was to create costumes for Rosalind Russell, the star of the forthcoming film “Never Wave at a WAC.” Russell, who at that time was considered the best-dressed of all American actresses, loved Galanos’ designs, and she became his friend and a loyal client.

Galanos gathered some of the most talented craftsmen available in his workrooms; many were trained in Europe or in the costume studios of Hollywood, for whom he continued to design from time to time. Nondas Keramitsis, Galanos’ head tailor, moved to Los Angeles from his native Greece to make women’s clothing. He had heard about Galanos through relatives and soon started working with him in his Los Angeles studio. Keramitsis and a crew of about 22 tailors he oversaw made everything by hand. If Galanos’ work was compared to that of anyone else, it was compared to French haute couture. His business was more comparable to a couture house than a ready-to-wear manufacturer; there was a great amount of hand work in each garment, and all of his famous beadwork and embroidery was done by his staff. Galanos always chose fabrics and trimmings personally during trips to Europe and Asia. Though he constantly looked for the best fabrics, Galanos often felt compelled to create his own. So he would make jackets out of different colored ribbons to toss over his chiffon dresses in impressionist colors. Or he would cross black satin ribbons over black lace for the bodices of delicately frothy short evening dresses. He often lined his dresses with silks that other designers used for dresses themselves, and he was always a firm believer in the importance of hidden details. These details made a difference in the feel of the clothes on the body and the hang of the fabric, and his clients all over the world were willing to pay a great deal for them. Details that were not hidden included sequins, feathers, metallic brocades and laces. He often balanced his most glittering dresses with quiet tie-dyed velvet sheaths and long, clingy styles in black crepe or crushed velvet. “Galanos: Perfection, and Lots of It,” read the headline in The New York Times after Galanos’ show of some 200 designs in 1988. “While he travels to Europe for his fabrics – many are the same as those used in the Paris couture collections – most of Galanos’s designing is done in California,” reported the Times. “His standards are as high as those found anywhere in the world. If a comparison is made, it is usually with the Paris couture. It is reasonably astonishing that an American designer of ready-to-wear should merit that kind of homage over so long a period of time.”

Daywear 

james galanos

1960's 2

1958 a

early 60ties

James Galanos, 1970, American, denim and sable fur

Galanos was also famous for his exquisite furs. He used mainly mink, sable, lynx and broadtail and handled the furs imaginatively, as if they were fabric. He smocked and quilted the surfaces, nipped the waistlines and used drawstrings, ruffles and capelets to give a strong fashion slant to all that opulence. He often designed for Peter Dion, the furrier who made sure that the quality of the pelts and the workmanship supported the innovative design. At the top of the line were coats made of lynx bellies, so soft and fluffy they looked airborne. The short style was selling for $200,000, the long one – for $300,000. The fitted coat was a Galanos specialty, successful in almost any fur, including fox.

Coctail dresses

1963-641963-'64james galanos

1987

Galanos was also famous for his exquisite furs. He used mainly mink, sable, lynx and broadtail and handled the furs imaginatively, as if they were fabric. He smocked and quilted the surfaces, nipped the waistlines and used drawstrings, ruffles and capelets to give a strong fashion slant to all that opulence. He often designed for Peter Dion, the furrier who made sure that the quality of the pelts and the workmanship supported the innovative design. At the top of the line were coats made of lynx bellies, so soft and fluffy they looked airborne. The short style was selling for $200,000, the long one – for $300,000. The fitted coat was a Galanos specialty, successful in almost any fur, including fox.

Many of the world’s most socially prominent women were Galanos customers. “James Galanos designs for wealthy women who go to luncheons and cocktail parties, dine at the finest restaurants and are invited to the best parties,” reported The New York Times. “His clothes are rarely seen in business offices. It isn’t only because of the five-figure price tags, although they are daunting to all but the highest-paid executives. It’s also the glamour quotient of the clothes.” Galanos agreed, “I design for a very limited group of people,” he told Time magazine in 1985.

Evening wear

1951 2

19551955
1950's evening dress1950's
58-591958-'59
The Metropolitan Museum of Art - Aurora Borealis by James Galanos 19591959
1960's

1960's 11960’s
19661966
James Galanos
1977-781977-’78
1980
James Galanos
In the 1980s, Galanos made national headlines as First Lady Nancy Reagan’s favorite designer. The fact that Mrs. Reagan wore a 14-year-old Galanos gown to her first state dinner at the White House attested to the timelessness and durability not only of his workmanship, but more importantly, of his design. This type of occurrence was commonplace among his faithful customers, which included Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Grace Kelly, Diana Ross, Betsy Bloomingdale, Rosalind Russell, Marlene Dietrich, Dorothy Lamour, Judy Garland, Loretta Young, Ali MacGraw, Ivana Trump, Carolyne Roehm, Kim Basinger, Arianna Huffington and many other notable personalities and film and media stars.

Nancy Reagan wearing a dress by James Galanos, photographed by Horst P. Horst, Vogue, May 1981.Nancy Reagan in a dress by James Galanos, ph. Horst P. Horst, Vogue, May 1981
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Despite his retirement in 1998, Galanos continues to make his presence known in the fashion world. In 2002, he blasted the fashion industry for catering to only young women with perfect bodies. In an interview with WWD over lunch at the Pierre Hotel in New York he asked the reporter, Eric Wilson, shaking his head in contempt, “How many women can wear just a patch over their crotch and a bra? Aren’t you embarrassed when you see a young girl walking down the street practically naked? Fashion is geared only to young people today,” Galanos continued. “All we see is Levi’s and bare bellies to the point of nausea. There are no clothes for elegant women. Let’s face it, some of the things you see in the paper are absolutely monstrous looking – and I’m not squeamish. God knows I made sexy clothes in my day, but there’s a point when you have to say, ‘Enough, already’.”

“While he officially retired in 1998,” wrote Alix Browne in The New York Times, “he shows no signs of falling out of fashion.”.Galanos’s vintage gowns remain chic, sought after and popular among the international jet-set, Hollywood stars and supermodels.

Vintage James Galanos can be found on: http://www.shrimptoncouture.com/collections/designer-galanos

vintage-red-carpet-amber-valettaAmber Valetta wearing vintage James Galanos
celine-vintage-jamesgalanosCeline Dion wearing vintage James.
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1961James Galanos with model, 1961
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info:
Wikipedia
http://fashion-history.lovetoknow.com/fashion-clothing-industry/fashion-designers/james-galanos

One Response to “James Galanos, one of History’s great American Fashion Designers”

  1. illumidata 5 June 2016 at 14:14 #

    Glorious designs and great write up – I love all these history lessons you provide, they’re a really intriguing window into a world I knew almost nothing about until I stumbled onto your blog. Thank you!

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