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January 16, 2011

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John Galliano speaks his mind

JOHN Galliano bounds into a suite at New York's Mercer Hotel, an astrakhan coolie hat creating a halo of glam froth atop an expertly aged fur-trimmed trench. With a flourish he casts the coat aside revealing a fashionably shrunken woolen take on an army jacket, herringbone culottes and ribbed tights.

In New York for a series of events around the opening of the just-renovated Dior flagship on 57th Street, Galliano is in fine humor, instantly professing love for the Big Apple. Over the next hour he engages in ebullient conversation that is both thoughtful and as entertaining as anything Joan Collins might stage at Feinstein's. In addition to addressing the professional topic du jour, the beautifully redone store, he discusses his own creative process and anoints a mysterious Brit designer a rising star.

Q: How many times a year do you come to New York?

A: Quite a few times. I work with Steven Meisel on the campaigns for Dior. I was here two months ago. I was doing research for Galliano, for the women's wear line that will be shown in 2012. But I stay under the radar because we cover a lot of ground and we're seeing different dealers, clothing dealers.

Q: Is it hard to switch from men's wear to haute couture mode and then back?

A: Look at me. Does it look like it's hard to switch?

Q: Is that hat Mongolian lamb?

A: Ah! This is my favorite milliner extraordinaire, Stephen Jones. This (pulling at his jacket sleeve) is a great kid, but no one knows about him. He's an English boy called Paul Harnden. You'll find his stuff in L'Eclaireur. I've told my French friends and they're trying to find out about him, but he's very Greta Garbo. He does that rough kind of tweed and stuff. I buy all my stuff from him.

Q: Who else's clothes have you worn?

A: I wear lots of different designer clothes, even young designers that are still at school. You know, I'm the president for Fashion Fringe in London with Colin McDowell, Uncle Colin, who actually was my professor, too. He was one of my teachers when I was at (Central) Saint Martins School of Art. And I went out there to judge the competition and I bought a few bits and pieces from them. I'm always checking out the markets. I mean, I love fashion.

Q: What do you love about fashion now?

A: The diversity. There is so much that encourages you to be individual.

Q: Do most fashion consumers take advantage of that?

A: Do they? Well, we're there to help; we're there to direct; we're there to inspire. It's much easier when there's someone there to inspire you, to help you, to make you maybe notice the finer, beautiful points that you're not aware of and enhance those bits. Everyone gets so obsessed with hiding bits that they don't want to show anything. Sometimes they forget their wonderful neck or profile or ear or whatever. I think that's important.

Q: To find the good parts and show them off?

A: To find someone who knows the collection. Don't ever go with a girlfriend! Leave her in the car park. Because she's only shopping for herself and her boyfriend - not for you. The last person she's thinking of is you. It's the same thing with boyfriends. Don't go shopping with boyfriends. They're only thinking of themselves, too. Place your trust in the manager, the guy who knows the brand, who will tell you the story about the finish or these little loops and blah, blah, blah, blah. And choose somewhere where the light's not too bright. And enjoy it. Enjoy!

Q: With more people shopping online, including at the luxury level, how do you see the physical store changing?

A: The role of the store, especially multibrand stores, they do have to move a little faster. It was fine when you'd go to these specialty stores when they would stock these fantastic designers that didn't necessarily have their own boutiques in town. Now, those designers have gone the huge next step and they have their own stores. So it's not really of much interest to have a smaller part of their collection in a specialty store. These specialty stores, why they started in the first place was that these designers were young, they were varied, you couldn't get them anywhere else. They may need to think about that now. Why go to Comme des Garcons and buy from the specialty store when you have the hugest Commes des Garcons shops around the world?

Q: How do you describe the new store in New York?

A: Well the concept is, very simply, Mr Peter Marino's interpretation of the clothes of the house of Dior. He loves what I do at Dior and the clothes and he always dreams of the clothes when he comes up with these amazing concepts.

Q: Talk about how you work at Dior.

A: Well, you know, I immerse myself in research. I travel geographically, historically. I create a muse. She can be fiction. She can be fact. She can be made up or a mix of different fabulous women that I know. I like to work with a narrative. The narrative then evolves. From there, sketching starts. And then I go straight on the body. We try to create volume and shapes and try to define the lines, especially if it's haute couture, we try to define the line. And then it's working very, very closely with the ateliers, hand-in-hand with the artists, fabric manufacturers, beaders, all those great artisans who exist in France. Then I don't know, before you see the final garment there could be up to 18 toiles before you reach the final, which can still be rough. Because in the true spirit of haute couture, the girls come in the night before and everything is fitted so you can't actually fit it any earlier. They come in and there's a whole organization, which is actually quite incredible.

Q: Is there one muse or two or five whom you would deem particularly suited toward the Dior retail environment?

A: Yes, all of them. You know, all of my muses are incredibly elusive. So it's very hard to keep track of them. I like to think that the clothes are very seductive. In fact, what you'll be seeing is the store is the cruise wear, which is the collection we showed in Shanghai, which is now being fully delivered.

Q: That speaks to the importance of the cruise season, that you can reopen a store with cruise.

A: It's a very strong collection. It used to be things you actually wore for cruise. But people don't really take many cruises nowadays.

Q: The name stays, but the collection has changed.

A: It's a great piece, a great jacket, a great trouser, that you can just throw into your existing wardrobe, whether it's Dior or not, and just gives it that lift like red lipstick ... It stands on its own, that collection. It's treated with the same reverence as any of the collections I work on, ready-to-wear, haute couture. The process is the same. I still do my research. I come back. I put it all together in a book. I'm inspired by a muse.

Q: You use the word reverence. You really do revere fashion.

A: Oh, I do. I love the business and I'm very fortunate to be in this fantastic business. I'm very lucky to have worked with the greats, whether it's photographers or artists or actors. I've been very lucky to work with the greats at Dior.

Q: How important is this renovation?

A: It's very important. It's a very important market. Everyone's been giving a lot of their attention for it to work really well, to serve our clients, their needs.

Q: Do you tweet?

A: No, I get people to do it for me. When I was here last, I was only here for four or five days and there were 30,000 calls or whatever you call them.

Q: Tweets.

A: Yeah, there were 30,000. They had nothing to do with Dior, nothing to do with (the company) John Galliano. Just what I look like when I leave the hotel, or people had seen me in a restaurant or going to the gym. Thirty thousand! That's a lot. I could advertise on that site. I think we need to exploit that, don't you?


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