James Galanos, who’s amazing designs were a favorite of prominent women such as Nancy Reagan is known for many things: dressing famous women, working magic with chiffon, and believing in beauty.
This is usually the part where there’s a twist, or I share new information. There’s no twist. There’s nothing shocking, just us, chatting about a great designer and amazing clothes. I still like where this is going!
James Galanos was born in 1924 to Greek immigrants (his father was a frustrated artist), in Pennsylvania. He has the average childhood, spent with his 3 sisters. James might have been far from fashion centers, though he was in awe of the beautiful women he saw at the restaurant his father managed in Southern New Jersey, he dreamed of Paris and New York. Galanos never sewed, even for his sisters, but he began sketching at a young age. He attended the Traphagen School of Design in NY, but dropped out after 8 mths (only completing General Design and Draping/Construction) as he felt like he needed practical experience, and not classes.
Galanos began his fashion career at Hattie Carnegie Emporium in NY, but as his job was more clerical, he left quickly to find a more creative position. He sold his sketches to manufactors for $10/each; until textile magnate Lawrence Lesavoy hired Galanos to help his wife launch a Ready-To-Wear line. Lesavoy and his wife divorced, causing the line to fall through, but Lesavory paid for Galanos to go to Paris where he found a position as an assistant to Robert Piguet (where Pierre Balmain and Hubert de Givenchy also started). At Piguet’s house, Galanos was resposible for sketching, draping, and working with suppiliers. After leaving Paris, Galanos returned to NY where he worked briefly for the dress making firm Davidvow, before moving to LA in 1951 to start his own line, Galanos Orginals. The rest is history.
Galanos sold his first collection to Saks, and then while his works were on display in a NY showroom, Galanos was discovered by a Neiman Marcus buyer. Stanley Marcus would become a huge fan and supporter of Galanos. Other influential fans? Diana Vreeland, Eleanor Lambert, and Eugenia Sheppard. Galanos quickly became well known and successful. He designed movie costumes for a time, adding Rosalind Russell and Judy Garland to his circle of supporters.
What makes Galanos different than some of the high end designers was that he never did couture, his line was always Ready-To-Wear, though his “factory” was run like a Couture house. The team of sewers and designers were true artisans; though the clothes were somewhat machine made, the sequins and chiffon edges were all done by hand. Galanos was very involved, picking out fabric and paying attention to the hidden details of his creations. While the price point (5 figures) of his dresses made Galanos out of reach for some people, his creations were timeless and classic, making them amazing vintage finds!
Galanos was know for high quality pieces, details, and being a master of chiffon. He draped chiffon, pleated it, hand rolled it, used flower prints and metallics, and even gilded chiffon. His designs were timeless, classic, and meant to make the wearer more beautiful. The women that Galanos dressed include: Nancy Reagan, Marliyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Grace Kelly, Diana Ross, Betsy Bloomingdale, Rosalind Russell, Marlene Dietrich, Dorothy Lamar, Judy Garland, Loretta Lynn, Ali McGraw, Ivana Trump, Carolyne Roehm, Kim Bassinger, and Arianna Huffington.
Galanos retired from fashion in 1998, though he still attend his friend’s shows. He said that he was not happy with the direction that fashion was going: that the fashion at the time was only meant for young people and had lost its elegance. Galanos reinvented himself as an abstract photographer. James Galanos passed away in Los Angeles in 2016.
Galanos designs remain gorgeous, timeless, and in demand. They balance the line of modern and classic, and the details alone are stunning. If you’re hoping to add a Galanos to your collection, you can try 1stdibs, Etsy, or any high end vintage store.
I did find the following Galanos pieces at TheREALREAL for you, including one of his stunning furs!