written by Evan Ross, proprietor of FROCK in New York City
Here at FROCK we are fortunate to have both the opportunity to see fashion at it’s finest, as well as meeting the women who truly appreciate it and have a distinct sense of personal style. Every day is akin to a treasure hunt as we go shopping in these women’s closets for new pieces. There are designers one finds in nearly every closet we encounter. Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, Christian Dior, Halston, Bill Blass, Chanel (both Coco and Karl)… each and every one a true master; but there is one favorite designer of mine who always stands out and is found in the closets of women who were fortunate enough to have the means to acquire these exquisite pieces. This would be James Galanos, in my personal estimation, one of the foremost 20th Century American couturiers and rightly so, one of the leading designers of all time.
Ironically, his creations didn’t come to life in New York City, the epicenter of fashion in the states, but from Los Angeles in southern California where American sportswear was de rigueur. Getting his start at the emporium Hattie Carnegie in New York City, he had the opportunity to learn from the greats of the time; Jean Louis, Pauline Trigere, and Norman Norell. He was hired to start a California-based ready-to-wear collection which failed following to the divorce of the investors. He was dispatched to Paris to learn from the couturier Robert Piguet, and where Galanos was exposed to Hubert de Givenchy, Marc Bohan and Pierre Balmain, who were Piguet assistants.
1951 marked the year Galanos decided to return to California and make a go at his own collection. Although the pieces were sold as ready-to-wear, initially in Saks Fifth Avenue and then in every notable emporium in America, they all were hand finished and exhibited many fine details and exquisite fabrics. Every piece, whether it be a day dress, a gown, or embroidered and beaded jacket, had some degree of hand finishing, if not completely hand-done like the couture in Paris. The five figure prices reflected the worth of the craftsmanship. Known especially for his work with chiffon, whether the garment is pleated, layered, or draped, the attention to detail to this day stands out. Coming across these pieces and finding a woman who is willing to let them go sends shivers down my spine. The combination of printed floral sheer chiffon used for the sleeves of a dress with the same fabric in silk and pleated and tucked to the gods, makes a simple shirtwaist dress of his stand out.
Then there are the gowns!! Oh lord, the gowns!! Each and everyone breathtaking, making the woman who dons it look like a million bucks. What I find wonderful is that whether the dress or gown or jacket, or top, or even the belts (his belts are out of this world), each and every piece exudes a style and elegance and true eye for creation rarely found in today’s fashion. There is a sensibility of class with an imbedded sexiness that isn’t overt or trying too hard. (Lord knows Galanos could do sexy!!) It was a period in fashion when things truly felt new and exciting and fashion had the aura of elegance and refinement. It portrayed the confidence and the women’s knowledge of her worth and beauty. Galanos retired in 1998, but thankfully his legacy lives on through his vintage pieces still worn today by arbiters of style found throughout the world.