Two-time Coty Award Winner (and Coty Hall of Fame inductee) James Galanos passed away yesterday at the age of 92.
Galanos was one of the first American fashion designers to establish himself outside of New York. Though he initially moved to the city after high school to pursue a career in fashion, he had a few false starts between the East and West coasts—while the fashion industry was in New York, he found few opportunities for creative control. At 27, he moved to California, and a year later he established his own line, Galanos Originals, which was quickly picked up by major department stores.
Naturally, being in California, Galanos had the opportunity to design costumes for some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, including Marlene Dietrich and Judy Garland. But he attracted celebrity clientele off the silver screen as well, with fans including Diana Vreeland, Grace Kelly, and most famously, Nancy Reagan.
“I first met him many years ago, when my sister-in-law lived in California,” Betty Halbreich, Bergorf Goodman’s longtime personal shopper extraordinaire, told FU. “The one thing I will tell you about him, he always stuck to what he believed in…I don’t want to use ‘snob appeal’ in a bad way, but he kept his clientele exactly the way he wanted it. And that was very chic, low-key, you always looked perfectly beautiful.”
Halbreich recalled that they key to Galanos’ elegance was all in the quality, and the fabrics. “You could wear them inside out—they were made extraordinarily beautifully,” she described.
Regan embodied Galanos’ ideal customer, and the customer that supported him the most: Affluent women of American high society. His clothing was as refined as it was extravagant. Though his brand was ready-to-wear, it became synonymous with extremely high quality, both in terms of design and construction. It was this specific focus, and not a lack of success, that kept Galanos from expanding his brand. Where his contemporaries cashed in on their names for wider product ranges (like accessories) that could reach a vast customer base, Galanos stuck to his creative vision, and never watered it down.
“He was very selective in the people he liked to dress. That was very interesting about him. I used to watch him from afar, and if someone said to him, ‘I’d really like a sleeve on that dress—a longer sleeve.’ He’d say ‘That’s not how the dress was designed.’” recalled Halbreich. “He refused to do it. As a designer, he was probably correct. He didn’t want the ladies changing his designs, in other words. He had a certain mode that he catered to, and how he catered to them, and he stuck to them forever.”
In his later years Galanos left fashion design (retiring in 1998), but remained in a creative field, turning to art photography. In this second act, he explored abstract images, and shot enough to hold his own gallery exhibition in 2006.
Galanos is survived by his extended family. News of his death was announced by his longtime friend Ralph Rucci.