It was the models’ highly stylized Lisa Fonssagrives makeup — as severe an arched brow and exaggerated a cupid bow’s pout a muse to Irving Penn could muster in 1947– that gave Galliano away: Try as he might to present the runway cast of his latest high costume drama as Girls With Pearl Earrings in the Dutch Golden Age of Vermeer and Van Dyck, Monday’s Spring 2009 Christian Dior couture presentation — as is now par for Galliano’s course — was another creative, yet familiar permutation of the Parisian house’s mid 20th century New Look.
To his credit, Galliano continues to disguise his Monsieur Dior hang up well: he is an extravagant escapist with a specific design agenda, but he does his art history well enough to cover his tracks, — the surface ones at least. The rich Baroque palette of sanguine reds, burnt plums, and ornate golds of the corseted, nearly floriform dresses — some even boasted high collars and voluminous sleeves in Guipure lace — rang true to Van Dyck’s deep, saturated use of color, particularly on the collection’s final, definitive look, the rubescent Renaissance gown. Cornflower blue, Vermeer’s pigment of choice, also worked itself into the color story, as did Delft blue china patterns, which dotted bodices and peeked out from under flared, sweeping skirts.
The Flemish pretext was an inspiring distraction, but ultimately a variation of a very familiar Dior theme. Under Galliano, the New Look silhouette — nipped waist, blouson sleeves, and the ballooning three-quarter length skirt — permeated this collection, as it has literally every other he has designed for the house in the past three years. For Spring 2008, he claimed Klimt and the Symbolists inspired a haute couture collection of radioactively camp fifties cocktail dresses; Dior’s latest ready-to-wear collections references Sargent’s Madame X but ostensibly reoutfitted the New Look with a darker, Orientalist context.
Galliano “came clean” last couture season, using Fall 2008 to formally, directly pay tribute to postwar supermodel and Dior icon Lisa Fonssagrives, all but confirming her as his new, permanent muse — as if anyone hadn’t noticed the change in former muse Gwen Stefani’s absence. We miss the flamboyance she inspired him to bring to early 2000’s Dior — the days where Galliano rivaled McQueen for runway mischief, sheer showmanship, and when he sought more inspiration from fin-de-siècle Austrian royalty, Egon Schiele, Edie Sedgwick than honoring the sartorial legacy of the namesake of his label.
The contrast of a cinched waist against a ballooning skirt harbors an undying appeal — don’t get us wrong. It’s just that That New Look isn’t so new anymore, John.