Born Juan Carlos Antonio Galliano-Guillen in 1960 in Gibraltar, Spain. Education: Earned design degree from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, 1984.
Addresses: Office—John Galliano, 60 Rue d'Avron, 75020 Paris, France.
Galliano's 1984 design-school graduation collection, "Les Incroyables," sold to Brown's, a London retailer, in its entirety; established fashion house under his own name in London, 1984; worked with various financial backers to produce collections, 1985-95; haute couture and ready-to-wear designer at the House of Givenchy, Paris, France, 1995-96; haute couture and ready-to-wear designer at Christian Dior, Paris, 1996—; opened own shop in Bergdorf Goodman store, 1997; licensed fur line, 1998; opened shop in Saks Fifth Avenue, 2000; launched watch collection, 2001; a partial career retrospective, "John Galliano at Dior," was staged at the Design Museum of London, 2001-02.
Awards: British Designer of Year award 1986, 1994, 1995; International Fashion Group, Master of Fashion, 1997; Designer of the Year, Council of Fashion of America, 1998; Commander of Order of the British Empire, 2001.
British fashion designer John Galliano's intricate and provocative clothes, which sometimes teeter on the edge of absurd, have made him one of the leading names in an industry where very few succeed to the top echelon. Usually referred to as fashion's enfant terrible, the designer's quixotic vision, exuberant sense of style, and iconoclastic personality have earned him a devoted following among the fashionista set, especially after he took over at the House of Dior in 1996. In a lengthy New Yorker profile, journalist Michael Specter noted that some of Galliano's critics claim that "his outfits often seemed more suited to the pageantry of public relations than to profits. Yet his effect on the way women dress is almost impossible to overstate.... More than any other designer working today, Galliano is responsible for the sheer and sexually frank clothing so many women wear."
Galliano emerged from a new generation of daring British designers whose visionary styles began stirring up the somewhat-moribund realm of international haute couture in the 1990s. Along with Alexander McQueen, creative director of Gucci, and Stella McCartney of Chloe, Galliano was tapped to take over one of France's more venerable design houses, Dior, in the 1990s. Before this generation, few British names had ever had any lasting impact on the French- and Italian-centric world of fashion. But Galliano has continental roots that helped shape his fabulously eccentric vision: his mother was Spanish, and he was born in Gibraltar, an overseas territory of Britain located on the coast of Spain, in 1960. The family moved to London six years later, but Galliano grew up in a household where his mother taught him to flamenco dance and regularly dressed his two sisters and him in formal outfits for Sundays and special occasions.
The Gallianos were working-class, and Galliano's father was a plumber in South London, which is often mentioned in articles about the designer's swift rise in the haute-couture world. "I got so sick of seeing my father called a plumber in every article," he told Specter in the New Yorker article, just before his father passed away. "People are always talking about how I am a plumber's son. I am my father's son primarily. What he chose to do as a career was his choice and he did it very, very well."
Galliano was originally drawn to languages, but at school he discovered he had a talent for drawing. His teachers suggested he apply to a fashion college, and he won a slot at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London's top design school. While there, he worked as a dresser at Britain's National Theatre, the eminent theater company in London. As a dresser, it was his job to make sure that the wardrobe worn by some of Britain's most famous thespians was perfect, but Galliano also gained a wealth of experience in the art of spectacle. "That changed my life," he said of the job in the interview with Specter. "I was a good dresser. It helped shape my view of drama, of clothing, of costume--the way people dress."
As a design student, Galliano was often seized by fanciful ideas and schemes. While still in school, he began sketching images of bizarrely modern clothing based on the ideals of the French Revolution. True to form, he sketched them on period-style parchment paper and only by candlelight. When one of his teachers saw them, it was suggested that Galliano turn the sketches of quasi-androgynous gear into his graduation collection at St. Martins. He staged an elaborate spectacle that caused a London fashion-world sensation in 1984. Harper's Bazaar writer Colin McDowell was an instructor at the school at the time, and recalled "there was hysteria behind the scenes, with students in tears begging to model for him, and members of the audience, who had already heard the buzz, becoming increasingly excited in anticipation."
Galliano sold the entire collection to the one London retailer, Brown's, that offered forward-minded fashion at the time. "I had to literally wheel my collection up the street to their shop," he said in the New Yorker interview. "I couldn't even afford to put the clothes in a cab. And they put one of the coats in the window and it was bought by Diana Ross." Galliano went into business for himself that first year, but struggled financially for the next decade. His clothes remained exuberantly bizarre, often deploying arcane period detail. He liked to visit design museums to examine eighteenth-century frock coats to learn forgotten tailoring secrets, and his collections were staged with increasing theatricality. One 1985 show had a model coming down the runway waving a dead mackerel at the fashion buyers and journalists in the audience.
Galliano was recognized as the British Designer of Year in 1986, but the Danish financial backer he had been working with cut him loose that same year. He quickly found another, Aguecheek, which was a company that owned some of London's priciest designer boutiques. "My next collection will be much more disciplined—it has to be," he told WWD journalist James Fallon when Aguecheek agreed to produce his spring 1987 collection. But a year later, Galliano seemed back to his retro-quirk. A WWD report on the spring 1988 fashion collections in London described the novelties in his show as "high waists throughout, some over the bust; skirts that are long in front, short in back," and accessories that included "shoulder-length gloves, Twenties-style button-front shoes [and] snoods."
In 1990, Galliano took a leap of faith and moved to Paris. He struggled financially there, too, especially after Aguecheek severed its ties with him. After presenting collections only intermittently for a few years, he was living in reduced circumstances at his tiny atelier. He was known among the fashion-editrix and stylesetter set for his gorgeous and eccentric designs, but was thought to be too outré for the commercial world. That changed when Galliano was befriended by the creative director for the American edition of Vogue, Andre Leon Talley. After Talley convinced Vogue editor Anna Wintour to give Galliano's newest designs a look, it was decided that Galliano needed to stage a show for the fall 1994 Paris collections to secure some serious financial backing. He had no money to put on a show, but Talley asked Paris socialite Saõ Schlumberger to lend her house, and Galliano filled it with thousands of dead leaves and pumped in dry ice. A roster of top models of the day worked for free, and wore Galliano items cut from the sole bolt of fabric he could afford to buy: black satin-backed crepe, which had a shiny side and matte one.
The show was a sensation, and brought Galliano another British Designer of Year award. He showed an expanded line at Bergdorf Goodman that same year for his American retail debut, but the true turning point was around the corner: in July of 1995, he was announced as the next haute couture and ready-to-wear designer for Givenchy. The classic French house dated back to 1952 and was indelibly associated with actress Audrey Hepburn, the muse of designer Hubert de Givenchy, but in recent years the clothes had lacked excitement and de Givenchy announced he would retire. The parent company, French luxury-goods conglomerate Louis Vuitton-Moët-Hennessy (LVMH), launched a search to replace de Givenchy, and stunned the fashion world by installing Galliano in the post. He became the first British designer to head a French design house since Charles Frederick Worth dressed the Empress Eugenie and France's wealthiest women in the 1850s.
Galliano admitted it caused a bit of a stir. "Understandably, some of the ladies were very loyal to Monsieur de Givenchy," he told WWD writers Janet Ozzard and Katherine Weisman. "But we had a lovely tea party for some of them recently, and it was great. I got to talk to them and find out what their needs are, what they want, and they got to meet me." He also asserted he conducted his own method of market research. He began getting pedicures, complete with polish. "I went down to Revlon and lay on the table next to Mrs. So-and-So and had the whole treatment," he said in the same WWD interview. "I mean, if you're going to get to know your customer, you have to know what she does. So I went through all that."
Some media sources made much of Galliano's startling rise, and often invoked the "son of a plumber" phrase. Adding to that, Galliano was known as exuberantly, famously eccentric, often sporting long dreadlocks, a pencil mustache, and a roster of ever-changing get-ups that usually featured somewhat of a pirate theme. After a year on the job, Galliano's star rose even further at LVMH when he was named head of Christian Dior, assuredly the most prestigious and vital property in the LVMH stable. Now Galliano had the financial wherewithal to give his creative vision free rein, and LVMH chair Bernard Arnault seemed to let him do as he pleased. His Dior debut at the Paris haute-couture shows was famous for its train-station setting and the models alighting off an antique steam engine that came thundering down the track.
Other Dior shows under Galliano featured models dressed as nuns but also sporting fetish wear, or a theme centered around the idea of Russian aristocrats escaping the 1917 revolution. Critics seemed flummoxed at times to translate Galliano's ideas onto the page and distill what was important and new, but the clothes won their own fans and the Dior name enjoyed an impressive renaissance. The line was suddenly new, sexy, and hip, with its clothes fitting much closer to the body, which Galliano has said he worked diligently to convince its esteemed stable of fitters and seamstresses to do when he took over. Though his runway ideas were sometimes outrageous, in the end they trickled down to the mainstream, and Galliano is credited with bringing dirty denim, camouflage, and even the slip dress to the masses.
Although those priciest haute-couture concoctions remained the province of the immensely wealthy, the more accessible Dior ready-to-wear began to thrive. His dresses became the favorite of trendsetting celebrities, from singer Gwen Stefani to actress Nicole Kidman, and between 1997 and 2001, Dior sales doubled to $312 million. In 2004, he was named to Time magazine's 100 list of world trendsetters and visionaries, and while writer Kate Betts hailed him as an immense creative force, she claimed the larger significance of what he introduced was nothing less than "the very proportions of our clothes, cutting dresses and jackets on the bias—against the grain of the fabric—so that they spiral around the body and give women a sinuous, sexier shape."
Galliano still makes his own John Galliano line, and opened an expectedly grandiose retail space in Paris on the Rue Saint-Honore in 2003. He lives in the Marais district of Paris, and adheres to a strenuous fitness regime to keep him toned for the sometimes shirtless catwalk struts he likes to take after presenting his collections. His outrageous costumes are a drastic departure from the well-cut suits of Monsieur Dior, who died in 1957 after revolutionizing women's fashion in a mere decade of innovation. "I don't think if Mr. Dior were here today he'd still be doing what he did back then, redoing things from yesteryear," Galliano told W's Miles Socha in 2002. "Don't forget, he was the first designer to set the standard for the modern fashion show. He was the first to license, the first to look to the United States for sales. He was a leader, and I think the house of Dior should continue to be."
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Born: Gibraltar, Spain, 1960. Education: Studied design at St. Martin's School of Art, London. Career: Graduation collection, Les Incroyables, sold to Brown's; freelance designer, establishing John Galliano fashion house, London, from 1984; designer for haute couture and ready-to-wear at Givenchy 1995-96; designer for haute couture and ready-to-wear at Christian Dior, from 1996; opened own shop in Bergdorf Goodman store, 1997; licensed fur line, 1998; opened shop in Saks Fifth Avenue, 2000; launched watch collection, 2001. Exhibitions: John Galliano at Dior, [retrospective], Design Museum of London, 2001-02. Awards: British Designer of Year award 1986, 1994, 1995; Bath Costume Museum Dress of the Year award, 1987; Telva award, Spain, 1995; International Fashion Group, Master of Fashion, 1997; Designer of the Year, Council of Fashion of America, 1998. Address: 60 Rue d'Avron, 75020 Paris, France. Website: www.dior.com.
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Experimental and innovative, John Galliano has become internationally renowned as one of Britain's most exciting designers, acclaimed from the start for his brilliance in cut and magpie-like ability to take inspiration from diverse sources to create a completely new look. Although his clothes are often difficult to understand when on the hanger—with collars that seem to be bows or halter necks that actually fit over the shoulders—they are frequently ahead of the current fashion trends and eventually filter down the clothing chain to the High Street, as well as being picked up by other designers. A favorite among fashion aficionados, Galliano was spotted as soon as his first student collection was completed and has continued to develop since, despite repeated problems with backers who have hampered his career.
As part of a new breed of avant-garde British designers, Galliano led the way in the mid-1980s with his historically influenced designs. This fascination for period detail and adaptation of traditional styles into highly contemporary pieces has continued throughout his work. Studying surviving garments in museums to learn about construction methods and different ways to cut and drape fabric to create new shapes inspired his innovative 18th-century Incroyables collection for his degree showing. He suffused this knowledge with other diverse influences to produce collections always exciting and different. His great belief in the necessity to push fashion forward by learning from the past—coupled with his skill at balancing his designs with modern ideals—has earned him the reputation of a prodigy.
Every outfit is thought out to the last detail, producing a series of completely accessorized looks as Galliano constantly strives for perfection. His love of bias cut gives added fluidity to the asymmetrical hemlines of many of his designs, with a taste of 18th-century dandyism thrown in, always with a surprise twist—often in his use of fabric, another area where Galliano loves to experiment and challenge. In one collection, he presented Napoleon-style jackets in bright neoprene, in another, devoré velvet bias-cut dresses clinging to the body, giving the element of sexiness that pervades his work. His love of shock gave us the camped-up glamour of his "underwear as outerwear," with satin knickers worn with feathered bras and leather caps, tapping the trend for drag in the London clubs.
With Galliano's Girl and, perhaps to an even greater extent, the largely denim and Lycra-based line Galliano Genes, the designer demonstrated his ability to redefine existing subcultures to develop clothes for the younger, funkier sisters of his mainline buyers. Produced at a cheaper cost by using less exclusive fabrics, these designs are nonetheless inventive. Three-way jackets can be worn with attached waistcoats outside or inside, and there are other basic items more commercially viable, confronting occasional claims from his critics that his work is too avant-garde and less popular than other European names.
The sheer breadth of vision in Galliano's designs, which frequently rethink form and shape, and the great inventiveness of his cut have surely ensured his reputation as one of the best of British designers. The research he does before forming a collection—bringing together influences and details from the French Revolution to Afghan bankers to Paul Poiret—and his experimentation with fabrics demonstrate his dedication to pushing fashion and dress forward, yielding excitement and surprise in every collection.
Galliano stunned the fashion world in 1995 when he was named designer for Givenchy and became the first British designer appointed to lead an established French fashion house. In addition to designing for both haute couture and ready-to-wear at Givenchy, Galliano continued to show designs under his own label. By October 1996, the LVMH group moved Galliano to its crown jewel and appointed Galliano designer for haute couture and ready-to-wear collections at Christian Dior. Critics questioned whether Galliano's maverick reputation would appeal to Dior's established clientéle, but the designer arrived with the energy to shake up the haute couture world, which was showing signs of losing the interest, and sales, of its customers. In his spring/summer 1997 collection, Galliano took classic Dior themes and spun them together with exotic African Masai tribal forms to create silk evening dresses accented with colorful beaded choker necklaces. The collection presented a younger image yet remained glamorous and refined, definitely worthy of the Dior name.
Galliano's collections have never failed to enchant, or shock, audiences. Each has expressed a theme complete with historic personalities and forces that have inspired Galliano's creations for the season. Edwardian elegance, the surrealist movement, the Soviet or Red Guard, the movie The Matrix, or classic English sportsmen have all been at play in Galliano collections. His push for a more contemporary, sexier image has proven at times to be a difficult and frightening change at Dior.
In addition to his extravagant romanticism and love of the bias-cut gown, Galliano still retained much of his British bad boy flair. He drew public ire when the homeless theme in his spring 2000 collection included models in newspapers carrying empty liquor bottles and, in the following year's spring collection, when runway models were accompanied by blared vulgar lyrics offering women for sale. Even his critics acknowledge Galliano has brought excitement and fun to haute couture, and customer interest may be his best vindication—by 2001 Dior sales had doubled since the arrival of Galliano four years earlier. The ever-inventive Galliano will continue to hold the fashion world's attention and certainly keep it guessing for years to come.
updated by Janette GoffDixon
John Galliano (1960– ) is widely considered one of the most innovative and influential fashion designers of the early twenty-first century. Known for a relentless stream of historical and ethnic appropriations, he mingled his references in often surprising juxtapositions to create extravagant yet intricately engineered and meticulously tailored clothes. His continual interest in presenting fashion shows as highly theatricalized spectacles, with models as characters in a drama and clothes at times verging on costumes, won him applause as well as criticism. With his respective appointments at Givenchy and Christian Dior, Galliano rose to international celebrity status as the first British designer since Charles Frederick Worth to front a French couture house. He has been a member of France's Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture since 1993 and is the winner of many prestigious awards, most notably British Designer of the Year in 1987, 1994, 1995, and 1997, and International Designer of the Year in 1997.
Education and Early Career
Galliano, christened Juan Carlos Antonio, was born in Gibraltar in 1960. He moved to Streatham, South London, with his Gibraltan father and Spanish mother at the age of six. Galliano had a brief period of work experience with Tommy Nutter, the Savile Row tailor, during his studies at St. Martins School of Art in London (since renamed Central St. Martin's), as well as a part-time position as a dresser at the National Theatre. He graduated from St. Martins with first class honors in fashion design in 1984. His hugely successful final collection, Les Incroyables, was based on fashion motifs of the French Revolution and was immediately bought by the London boutique Browns, where it was featured in the entire window display. Galliano launched his label in the same year and has designed in his own name ever since.
Despite Galliano's rapid securing of a cult following and critical acclaim with such collections as Afghanistan Repudiates Western Ideals, The Ludic Game, Fallen Angels, or Forgotten Innocents, the business part of his early design career was most challenging. With inadequate and unstable financial backing—the Danish businessmen Johan Brun and Peder Bertelsen were among his first backers—Galliano had to produce several collections on a limited budget; some seasons he was not able to show at all. Galliano's shows of this period sometimes relied on last-minute improvisations for the final effect—as in his Fallen Angels show when he splashed buckets of cold water over the models just before the finale. Galliano began to work with the stylist Amanda Harlech, who worked closely with him until 1997. Other long-term associates include the DJ Jeremy Healy, the milliner Stephen Jones, and the shoemaker Manolo Blahnik.
In 1990 Galliano designed the costumes for Ashley Page's ballet Currulao, performed by the Rambert Dance Company. In 1991 he launched two less expensive, youth-oriented diffusion lines, Galliano's Girl and Galliano Genes. By the early 1990s, Galliano had become firmly rooted in London's club scene. This, combined with his first-hand knowledge of the theater, channeled his interests toward experimentation and rarefied eccentricity, while it also fed the self-styled reinventions of his personal image. Both remain Galliano trademarks.
From London to Paris
Galliano moved to Paris in 1990, hoping for better work prospects. His acclaimed 1994 spring–summer collection, inspired by his personalized fairy-tale version of Princess Lucretia's escape from Russia, opened with models rushing down the catwalk, tripping over their giant crinolines supported by collapsible telephone cables. Thanks to the support of (U.S.) Vogue's creative director Anna Wintour and the fashion editor Andre Leon Talley, Galliano's breakthrough 1994–1995 autumn–winter collection was staged in an hôtel particulier, the eighteenth-century mansion of the Portuguese socialite São Schlumberger. The show recreated the intimate mood of a couture salon, with models walking through different rooms in the house that held small groups of guests. The interior of the house was transformed into a film set, evoking an aura of romantic decadence, with unmade beds and rose petals scattered about. Despite being composed of a mere seventeen outfits, the show used choreography and its exotic location to mark a momentous mid-1990s shift toward fashion shows as spectacles. A comparable mode of presentation was developed by Martin Margiela and Alexander McQueen around the same time.
In 1995 the president of the French luxury conglomerate LVMH, Bernard Arnault, appointed Galliano as Hubert de Givenchy's replacement as principal designer at Givenchy. Here Galliano had an excellent opportunity to study the archives of a major Parisian couture house. He developed his skill for merging—within one collection or a single outfit—traditional feminine glamour with a distinctly contemporary element of playfulness. He was also able to do justice to the breadth of his vision as one of fashion's most spectacular showmen. During and after Galliano's brief tenure at Givenchy, the house acquired an air of "Cool Britannia," and received unparalleled publicity. Alexander McQueen took over at Givenchy in 1996, while Galliano was installed as chief designer at another LVMH label, Christian Dior, as Gianfranco Ferré's successor. Four years later, Galliano's creative control over Dior's clothes was extended to the house's accessories, shop design, and advertising. Meanwhile, Galliano has continued to design under his own label. In 2003 he opened his first flagship store on the corner of the rue Duphot and the rue du Faubourg-Saint Honoré in Paris. The building's interior was designed by the architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte. Galliano launched his first signature men's wear collection since 1986 for autumn–winter 2004.
Galliano creates eclectic clothes, which are based on sources from fashion, film, art, and popular culture, and
modernizes his borrowings to varying degrees. Inspired by extensive travel experiences as well as thorough research in libraries, museum exhibitions, and archives, Galliano interprets not only exotic and historical looks but also construction techniques—most significantly the body-flattering elastic bias cut popularized by Madeleine Vionnet in the 1920s. His approach has been described variously as magpie-like, history-book-plundering, romantic escapism, and postmodern pastiche. Galliano's first haute couture Dior collection for spring–summer 1997, which coincided with Dior's fiftieth anniversary, juxtaposed quasi-Masai jewelery and quasi-Dinka beaded corsets with hourglass silhouettes reminiscent of the Edwardian era and Dior's own New Look. In the same collection, innocent white leather doily-like dresses and hats were shown alongside 1920s Chinese-inspired dresses styled with a menacing edge.
Unlike the androgynous creatures who paraded avant-garde shapes in Galliano's London shows of the 1980s, the heroines of his 1990s Paris period were luxurious icy divas by day and exotic opium-fueled seductresses by night—as represented in his Haute Bohemia collection for spring–summer 1998. For most of the decade he found inspiration in mysterious and sexually ambiguous women, ranging from real historical aristocrats, showgirls, and actresses to imagined characters and female stereotypes: Indian princess Pocahontas, Lolita (stemming from Vladimir Nabokov's fictional character), Edwardian demimondaines, the actress Theda Bara as Cleopatra, the artist and model Kiki de Montparnasse, the Russian princess Anastasia Nicholaevna, the Duchess of Windsor, the film character Suzie Wong, other prostitutes, and trapeze artists. Galliano's real clients in this period included Béatrice de Rothschild, Madonna, Nicole Kidman, and Cate Blanchett.
Since around 2000, in addition to Galliano's multicultural cross-referencing, he has placed new emphasis on shaking up the high and low of fashion. He has returned to the excesses of his earlier work and "dirtied" traditional elegance with over-the-top chaotic mixes of punk and grunge trashiness, 1980s–1990s street culture, clown-like infantilism, and spoofs of "rock'n'roll chic." While the designer maximized the concepts of couture and ready-to-wear alike as a masquerade and "laboratory of ideas," with clothes as "showpieces," he has reinforced the identities of Givenchy and particularly Dior as leading luxury brands with a tongue-in-cheek twist. The creative identity of his own label, which makes up for two of the six collections he produces yearly, has been closely linked to that of Dior.
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Canadian footwear designer working in London
Born: Edmonton, Canada, 19 March 1963. Education: Studied at Cordwainers College, Hackney, London, 1983-85. Career: Established firm in London and designed collections for Bodymap, Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, and others, from 1987; London shop opened, 1991; hired CEO from Hermés, 1995; ran controversial suicide-themed ad for footwear, 1999; introduced first signature fragrance, 2000. Awards: Accessory Designer of the Year, British Fashion awards, 1994 and 1995; British Marie Claire Accessory Designer of the Year, 1996; Fashion Medal of Honor by the Footwear Association of New York, 1996. Address: 30 Sloane Street, London SW1X 9NJ, England.
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"Getting High," in European Cosmetic Markets, September 2000.***
"My early shoes stick in people's minds," Patrick Cox has said, "but things are getting more refined." Those who may remember him as the devoted nightclubber of the early 1980s might have been surprised to find him, a decade later, presiding over the salon atmosphere of his shoeshop-cum-antiques emporium in London. Patrick Cox grew up, but also went beyond the image of the shoemaker with "street credibility," designing for Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, et al. He survived the designer decade of the 1980s and emerged in the early 1990s with his ability to wittily reinterpret traditional styling, still constantly in tune with contemporary fashion.
Cox's fascination with the British fashion scene brought him to London, rather than the obvious footwear design centers of Italy. He enrolled at Cordwainers College, Hackney, London to study, but soon found college life was less rewarding than meeting and making contacts within the London club world. His involvement with the music and fashion scene brought him the chance to design for Vivienne Westwood's first solo collection, whilst he was still at college. "I used to shop at Westwood's quite a lot and my flatmate David was her assistant," he recalled. "Six weeks before the show someone realized nothing had been done about shoes and David suggested that I could probably help…. My gold platform shoes with large knots went down a treat. Everyone noticed them—you couldn't miss them really—and my other commissions have followed from there."
Indeed they did: in no time at all he was designing shoes to accompany the collections of the young English designers who were then flavor of the month on the international fashion circuit. Cox shod the feet to fit the willful perversities of Bodymap, the calculated eccentricity of John Galliano, and the ladies-who-lunch chic of Alistair Blair.
Cox went on to design his own label collections with such delightfully named styles as Chain Reaction, Rasta, and Crucifix Court. These were typical, hard-edged classic women's silhouettes given the Cox treatment—chain mesh, silk fringes and crucifixes suspended from the heels. Witty and amusing as these styles were, they had limited appeal and Cox would not have attained his current prominence had he not sought a larger audience.
The launch of his own London shop in 1991 gave Cox the opportunity to show his collections as a whole, displaying the brash alongside the sophisticated. His audience soon came from both the devotees of the off-the-wall fashion experimentation of King's Road and the classic chic of the Sloane Square debutante. Cleverly, his shop was geographically situated between the two.
Selling shoes alongside antiques was a novelty that appealed to the press and boosted Cox's profile. There was something delightful in the presentation of shoes balanced on the arms of Louis XVI gilt chairs or popping out of the drawers of beautiful old dressers. The shoes gained an aura of respectability; a sense of belonging to some tradition, which perfectly complemented Cox's reinterpretation of classic themes. No longer was there a typical Cox customer; they were the young and not so young. Cox took great delight when elderly ladies appreciated his more subtle styling; his women's shoes even rivaled those of Manolo Blahnik in their sophistication—a calculated move.
In contrast, the development his men's footwear was less obvious. Cox has always loved traditional English styling, and commented: "I believe that British men's shoes are the best in the world, so mine are just an evolution from those classic ideas." This evolution kept him close to the spirit of British footwear, if not to the colorways. He reproduced the weight and proportions of the styles whilst exaggerating the soles and fastenings.
Cox is the shoe designer who admits there is little you can do with shoes. The very nature of footwear imposes constraints upon the designer, where there are fewer problems for the clothing designer. Cox sees shoes as more architectural than clothes; a free standing form with an inside and out. Yet these restrictions do not stop him producing fresh contemporary styles which still work within the perceived framework of what a classic silhouette should be.
During the second half of the 1990s, Cox was at a crossroads. He had lost some of the cachet associated with his Wannabe brand, but did not, as a self-financed company, have the resources to step to the next level and compete with other luxury goods brands. His margins were low compared to other companies and he spent a high nine percent of sales on advertising. He continued to enhance his footwear line; in spring/summer 1997, for example, he added a jelly boot to his colorful jelly wedges and sandals. Meanwhile, he entered the apparel market, introducing a small clothing line for men and women in 1995. By fall 1999 his London runway show featured items such as $363 neoprene pants and a $295 black cotton-and-rubber-ribbed sweater. His entry into apparel has been credited with moving men's clothing away from the staid elegance associated with French designers to a funkier tailored look. The women's apparel is brightly colored with a fun, comfortable sensibility.
The designer also extended distribution in the mid-to late 1990s by opening stores and boutiques throughout Europe, North America, and Asia, including an 800-square-foot section at the Tokyo department store Isetan that carried his whole line of footwear, apparel, and accessories. He also opened a Tokyo office to work more closely with his Japanese licensees, as well as a New York showroom. The latter closed; many observers believe he moved into the U.S. market too quickly.
As of 1999 the designer's wholly owned business, Patrick Cox International, had annual turnover of £19 million ($30 million), earned not only from his flagship footwear line but from apparel, jewelry, bags, and ties. (The Wannabe loafer is not the trendsetter it was, but still accounted for about half of Cox's shoe sales in the late 1990s.) That same year, Cox was widely criticized for a two-page spread in the glossy men's magazine FHM, showing the feet of a man who appeared to have hung himself. Critics called the suicide-themed depiction "tasteless."
Cox announced his first fragrance line for men and women, "High," in partnership with Paris-based IFF in 2000. It debuted at the upscale British department store Harvey Nichols before being introduced into Asian markets. The scent typifies the Cox image: fun, addictive, and "of the moment."
updated by KarenRaugust