Fashion Reverie looks back at the career of Jams Galanos. James Galanos transitioned on October 30, 2016, after decades of dressing the American elite, most noticeably former First Lady Nancy Reagan. Rosina Rucci, sister of longtime friend and fellow designer Ralph Rucci, confirmed Galanos’s death.
“Ronnie liked Jimmy’s clothes very much,” Mrs. Reagan said in a 2007 interview with Vanity Fair magazine. “Wearing Jimmy meant never going overboard or to extremes. Jimmy really set the standard.”
James Galanos made a name for himself dressing celebrities and the fashion elite. Twice he won the prestigious Coty Award, respectively in 1954 and 1956, as well as the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of Designers in 1985.
Born in Philadelphia to Greek immigrant parents, Galanos, who studied briefly at the Traphagen School of Fashion in New York City, got an auspicious start in the industry, first working as a general assistant for Hattie Carnegie. After a failed attempt designing for a ready-to-wear startup in Los Angeles, Jean Louis, head costume designer at Columbia Pictures, hired Galanos. After the war, Galanos worked in Paris for the French couturier Robert Giguet. By the early 1950s, Galanos had opened his own company, Galanos Originals, in California. Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills immediately picked up clothes from his early collections. After opening a showroom in New York City, Galanos became the darling of Diana Vreeland, Eleanor Lambert, Eugenia Sheppard, and the president of Neiman Marcus, Stanley Marcus.
James Galanos’s designs were known for their simple elegance. He was especially adept at draping and finding new ways of working with chiffon. As much as Galanos’s chiffon gowns were the envy of every woman in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, Galanos was also highly respected for his 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.
Though Galanos had a wide celebrity and social elite clientele, Galanos never sought to proliferate the market with his designs. Galanos designed mostly for a select group of wealthy customers. He aggressively stayed out of the limelight and the fashion press, never staging fashion shows or developing clothes for mass market consumption.. “I’m only interested in designing for a certain type of woman,” Mr. Galanos once said. “Specifically, one that has money.” That said; Galanos’s select list of clients included Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Diana Ross, Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich, Kim Basinger, Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Nancy Reagan, Ivana Trump, Arianna Huffington, and Betsy Bloomingdale.
“There was an establishment quality to Galanos, a sense of privilege around his clothes,” Harold Koda, a former curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, told Vanity Fair. “A Galanos projected knockout glamour, absolute luxury, but the lightness of his handiwork prevented the clothes from ever looking like costume.”
After Galanos retired from fashion in 1998, he became passionately obsessed with photography. In 2006, at age 82, Galanos’s first exhibition of photography was held to great acclaim at the Serge Sorokko Gallery in San Francisco. The show featured more than 40 photographs taken by Galanos over the previous several years. The works were mostly abstract, with the notable exception of a few mystical, mirror-effect enigmatic landscapes.
“The highlight of my career is simply existing for 46 years,” he answered. “The most important thing I have done is to maintain what I started out to do.”
James Galanos, 92, died in his home in West Hollywood.