James Galanos: Design Integrity is the perfect introduction to the long life and career of one of America's greatest, but lesser known fashion designers. The majority of items on display were gifts of the Galanos family to Drexel University after the designers' death in 2016. Personally, I knew little about Galanos' career and found this exhibition very accessible.
Philadelphia-born James Galanos seems to have lived the ideal life of a designer. Self-made, self-financed, and successful for five decades, his life and career are a testament to hard work and a business savvy unlike his contemporaries. Galanos chose to run an operation on a much smaller scale than his peers in post-war America, enabling himself to oversee all aspects of his design house. The creations he presented each season were, as he described, "custom ready to wear." Often compared to French Couture, Galanos' work was known for its exceptional cutting, with at times, few darts or seams, and an unusual mixture of fine fabric types. His work was considered avant-garde to some, and dare I argue post-modern within the context of art history now.
His use of jumpsuits and pantsuits was both within and ahead of the historical fashion narrative. In keeping to classic, well-cut lines and silhouettes, much of his work translates easily to the present day. Known for skirts that hit right at the ankle, the "Galanos length" became another classic design detail that his customers sought after. The influence of the early 20th century can be seen in silhouettes reminiscent of the 1910s, 20s, and 30s, along with his use of printed floral chiffon.
Like his contemporary Normal Norell, Galanos cultivated relationships with some of the most glamorous women in Hollywood. These included Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Philadelphia-born Grace Kelly, and First Lady Nancy Regan.
"The black dress reveals everything: line, cut, drape, seaming. It must be perfection."
The accompanying exhibition catalog includes many photographs and sketches, along with a supplemental essay that rounds out what is a great introduction to the life and legacy of James Galanos.
James Galanos: Design Integrity runs until January 27th in the Pearlstein Gallery located in the URBN Annex on the Drexel campus.
Sauro, Clare with Cara Fry and Monica Stevens Smyth. James Galanos: Design Integrity. Philadelphia: Drexel University Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, 2018.