Stories

Paris 1994. John Galliano

The early ’90s were a fantastic time to be in fashion. The front rows weren’t yet filled with paid-for celebrities or a wall of iPhones, the bloggers weren’t born, and the only street style was the gentleman photographer Bill Cunningham of the New York Times—the glory days. Before fashion became cleaned up and corporate, when unexpected magic could still happen.

Words LUCINDA ALFORD
Photography ARNO

At the time, I was lucky enough to be fashion editor at the Observer, so I covered the shows to report back. Pre-digital, at night, when the shows finished we traipsed off to the lab to look through the film. There was no Instagram, no instant pictures, no Vogue Runway, and mobile phones were the size of bricks.

So, off I went, my sketchbook in hand, to Paris for the AW ’94/95 season. John Galliano had shown in Paris the previous season, a costume drama of filibuster proportions. The show was incredible, but allegedly didn’t sell, so John had found himself with neither a backer nor the money to show again.

However, the force that was André Leon Talley had decided to do something about this, and a scheme was hatched for John to show for free in the deserted Paris mansion of São Schlumberger, an American socialite. In six short weeks the show was put together on a shoestring budget. The invitations were dispatched—an ancient rusty old key with a handwritten label. I have it still all these years later. I was excited.

Rumour was it would be an intimate presentation to just 200. So to Schlumberger’s. Imagine owning an unused mansion in the middle of Paris. It was empty of furniture, bar the little gilt chairs and a few scattered chaises-longue. Leaves tumbled into piles suggesting time had blown through. Late starting, of course—then Jeremy Healy’s soundtrack kicked in and out came the girls.

It was modern, it was glamour and it was all happening right in front of me, literally.

Never had I witnessed such glamour up close. The girls looked incredible. As Kate Moss walked past me, inches away, in an organza, pink-bow back kimono, her bust barely covered by an embroidered obi, tiny lace panties on show, you could visibly see her tremble, wearing the spindliest of sexy Manolos. Nadja Auermann was all legs in a satin slip and shearling, and cloche hat. Christy wrapped in satin. Linda in a kimono. Shalom almost purring. Debbie Deitering, Carla Bruni, Helena, Naomi… It was the first time I’d seen such glamour that I loved and it was the most exciting thing. The girls went room to room, pausing to drape themselves around the doorways. It was the most upmarket bordello. Huge diamonds sparkling, lent by Harry Winston.

It was almost an all-black collection, aside from Kate’s pink, the most used fabric being a satin back crepe, which remains one of my favourite fabrics to this day—slippery soft, bias-cut slips, hanging from the tiniest of straps, the contrast of both sides of the fabric in the intricate seaming. Jackets based on the kimono. John said backstage at the time that he was inspired by glamour, and the purity of the kimono. He spoke about how sexy the nape of the neck in a kimono was.

By the time Healy’s mix of Nirvana and banging house blared out I was totally beside myself. The girls, who all walked for free, looked amazingly beautiful. Every super was there, they knew right then how amazing they looked with their make-up by Stéphane Marais and hair by Julien D’ys, who also made incredible knotted Perspex headpieces in bright cobalt red and blue, which lifted the looks from being a retro homage. Styled and directed by the legendary Amanda Harlech.

It was modern, it was glamour and it was all happening right in front of me, literally. It was allegedly when the phrase ‘fashion moment’ was coined, again by Mr Talley. And it truly was. Ironically, 30 years on and I found one of the black, satin, bias-cut dresses from around that era, now deemed vintage, Kate Moss bought it from me and wore it to the Galliano debut show for Maison Margiela. Another great fashion moment. Old-school glamour looking thoroughly modern.


Lucinda Alford was fashion editor of the Observer for ten years in the late ’80s & early ’90s. She now sells vintage inspiration to designers as @lucindaportobello.