Sunday, October 2, 2011

Can Anyone Do What John Does?

The Spring John Galliano collection differed from past lines when it was presented in Paris today. It was far less over the top than we might expect from a Galliano show, but the main departure was due to the fact that this this was the first John Galliano show with someone other than the brand's namesake at the helm. Bill Gaytten, who stepped in for Galliano when he was ousted at Dior and Galliano after his antisemitic tirade earlier this year. Dior has since been in the talks to find a new creative director (perhaps even Marc Jacobs) while the Galliano house seems to be sticking with Gaytten (despite a few less than savoury reviews.) 

It's difficult to help but wonder, in a line named for Galliano, can anyone do what John does? We've already mused the inherent problems of his genius when mingled with the fact that his actions have been, frankly, intolerable. But when we view art, and we know its been created by someone other than the man we've all lauded as a genius, can we still take it seriously? In a tangible sense, reviewers have noted that Gaytten's collections are simply not as outrageous as Galliano's, and that lack of ballsy genius is what makes them so much less exciting. Wall Street Journal blogger Christina Passariello muses that the less-than-lengthy legacy of Galliano's own brand (vs. Dior) allows Gaytten to branch out from what designers (in this case, Galliano) have done in the past. 

When viewing Gaytten's work, I almost find myself prejudicially dismissing it, because I know it's "not Galliano." That doesn't mean it's not good, but why, then, does the Galliano brand not just end with the demise of the shamed designer's career? Why doesn't Gaytten just strike out on his own, especially now that he must know he will never fill Galliano's shoes the way we want him to? In fact, it seems to me that Gaytten would garner more positive attention designing under his own name, because that "Galliano"-sized expectation would not exist. Indeed, it's not as though the two are strangers: Gaytten has been working with Galliano since his Givenchy days. And, obviously, there are millions of dollars to be made in Galliano's name, which is a shame, because this is not how art should work. 

Looking back at the designer brands that have survived from the early to mid 20th century, when international trade and fashion were flourishing, we still see names like Balmain, Rochas, Nina Ricci, Lanvin, Chanel and Christian Dior. But how many of the current creative directors of these companies design along the lines of the original Parisian creators? When Theyskin's took over the revived Rochas, he might not have known that Marcel himself was a reputed anti-semite, but what's more important is that articles discussing this revival said nothing about Rochas' original aesthetic and why that might be important to Theyskins (hence absolving him for overlooking Rochas' ideological shortcomings.) Sure, Olivier Rousteing is lauded for being a 25 year old design prodigy recently taking the reigns of Balmain, but what do his (albeit gorgeous) designs have to do with Pierre himself?

Does it matter what designers create in the name of someone else? Does the name stand for an aesthetic, or is it like fashion, changing with each day and season? Is it just about money? Is it as much an art form as we would like to argue or believe? Unfortunately for Gaytten, stepping away from John Galliano the brand, the name, and the man might be a bigger challenge than he can handle. 

Posted by: Carla 

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