I have been extremely fortunate, throughout my career, to have worked with many extraordinary creators one of whom was James Galanos. Mr. Galanos passed away on Sunday at the age of 92. With his passing, one more star of the fashion world has left us, but we all know his star is shining brightly in the galaxy! How lucky we all were to be able to share his brilliance.
Here is a personal story of how I related to Mr. Galanos when he visited Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago with his stunning creations. A little insight into how I personally worked with the designers and/or their representatives
There have been many tributes written since the announcement of his death and there will be many more to come. All telling us that he was one of our true originals, one who set his own rules, followed his own passions and created some of the most luxurious, beautiful garments any of us can imagine. His creations were considered American Couture. Each garment conceived by him, sometimes sewn by him, pressed by him, etc. He never licensed his name…he did do a perfume. He even created his own prints working with the best textile companies in Europe. Nothing escaped his vision and he strived for perfection, I would suggest he reached it!
Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago hosted Mr. Galanos twice a year with his collections. The collection had been at other stores in Chicago so when Mr. Galanos came to Saks it was huge!! He always traveled with an assistant/model, first Pat Jones and then Natalie Terrell, who assisted him with his clients as well as wearing his garments. He preferred not to present a formal fashion show but rather to work directly with his devotees. I can tell you when he decided to close his atelier not only were his clients devasted but so was the Store, it left a huge hole in very expensive, exclusive garments. We didn’t buy the collection for the Chicago store, everything was by special order, in my opinion, this made it even more exciting to own. Certainly not one of a kind but made especially for the individual client.
With Pat Jones in his Los Angelos workrooms (image from Pinterest not identified)
I was always amazed that we were instructed not to unpack the collection once it arrived at the Store, Mr. Galanos, without any help, did this himself down to the last piece of jewelry, shoe, hat, as well as the huge collection itself which was at least 100 plus pieces each season. In addition, the collection was housed in dressing rooms, with a few pieces displayed on the selling floor in a very upscale salon manner. It was not only unheard of it was a show of complete control over his creations. Nothing was left to chance.
We always did a very special invitation to our Galanos clients. Calligraphy invitations were attached to a full bottle of his perfume and delivered by a chauffeured town car. Other times I would send a charming tussie mussie (a miniature real flower bouquet) in a tiny brass basket. They dried beautifully and the ladies loved getting them and collected them. We often did a champagne/caviar reception in a private condo. A bit of a change up from doing something in the Store.
In days of old….I met each designer or their representation at O’Hare at their arrival gate. I always felt this set the tone for the personal appearance. It gave me the unique opportunity to be able, in the ride from the airport to their hotel, to have in-depth conversations and make friends. In addition, I also rode back with them and waited at their departure gate until they boarded their plane…those were definitely the days! I was also included in at least one dinner with the designer when they visited, again gaining personal experiences and information on a more intimate basis than working with them on the selling floor or with a formal fashion show. I remember after several years of Mr. Galanos’ visits, I had picked him up at his hotel and we were waiting at the restaurant for the rest of the Saks team and much to my surprise he said to me, “Nena, why aren’t you calling me Jimmy?” After picking myself up off the floor, I responded, “You never said I could!” From that day forwarad it was Jimmy! What an honor. While preparing this posting, I wanted to include my photo with him and didn’t have sufficient time to do so. When I find it I shall share it.
At home in Los Angelos photo in Architecture Digest
On one visit he decided he wanted to donate garments to the Costume Collection at the Chicago History Museum, he had been the first recipitant of their Designer of Excellence Award and was, as are most designers who visit the Collection, beyond impressed with it. I called our curator and asked if she would be interested, a really silly question, of course she was. A carton arrived at the Store housing approximately 12 garments. I had them sent to the the Museum for her to chose a couple of pieces which she did. I called Mr. Galanos with her selections and he said, “Not just one or two they are all for the Collection!” Seriously…and each was labeled with it’s name, the date of the collection, fabric, sketch…the whole works. When Andrew Gn (who is making a personal appearance with his Spring 2017 Collection in two weeks) was in Chicago a year and a half ago he visited the Costume Collection and asked to see only American designers, one he asked for was James Galanos. The photo below is a piece from the Collection Mr. Galanos personally donated. By the way, Mr. Gn is following that tradition and donating several pieces to our Collection when he visits. I will be doing a profile on him, his Collection and what he has donated in an upcoming post.
James Galanos gown as it was prepped to be inspected by Andrew Gn in the Chicago History Museum Costume Collection. Photo taken by Nena on my iPhone
Nancy Reagan 1981-1985 (White House photographs)
He is, of course, known for creating the stunning gowns that Nancy Reagan wore to the Inaugural Balls as well as many of her other evening gowns and day pieces (many of her day clothes and some evening gowns were from Adolfo, I will do a profile on him in the future). They formed a close friendship which lasted until her death.
I remember a conversation with him regarding his clients. The discussion was when is too much too much! He had said that in one of his California stores, probably his biggest account…they usually bought each Collection in its entirity, can you imagine…the following happened! Well, it seemed one client, who could definitely afford it, had ordered 20 garments, most were heavilty beaded and had had Judith Leiber bags ordered to match the beading on each garment. Needless to say that was a huge bill. His concern was that that was over kill. My response was “Does this client do much for charity, do they employee staff for their properties, support the arts, etc. etc” the answer was yes, of course. “Well, I said, then they are contributing to employeement, philanthophy, keeping businesses going and not just buying clothes (and, of course, this kept his staff employed). His response he hadn’t thought of it like that. Understand the prices of his garments ran into thousands of dollars each.
Walk of Style plaque with Betsey Bloomingdale and Nancy Reagan
He, of course,also has a plaque on the Fashion Walk of Fame in New York. I could only find a dreadful photo on line, I need to take photos of all those special recognition plaques next time I’m in New York.
To have had the opportunity to not only work with the genius of James Galanos professionally, but also get to know a extremely private individual on a more intimate level is a memory I shall always treasure. Rest in Peace Mr. Galanos.
Catalog available from third party sellers on Amazon:
A catalog to a retrospective exhibition of the work of couturier James Galanos held at the Western Reserve Historical Society, Chisholm Halle Costume Wing, in 1996, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1997. It consists primarily of illustrations of creations by Galanos between 1952 and 1993. Curator of the exhibition was Barry Bradley, curator of costume for the historical society.