In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the fashion world was dominated by two very different but equally successful and turbulent figures. But in February 2010, Alexander McQueen committed suicide, and within twelve months, John Galliano had professionally imploded. Who was to blame? And how was fashion changed by their rise and fall?
Dana Thomas, author of Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Lustre, presents to us in this her new book, Gods and Kings, the story of Galliano and McQueen, the two working-class British boys who shook fashion to its core. From the raucous art and club scene of London to the old-school heart of French couture, by 1997 each had landed a job as creative director for couture houses owned by French tycoon Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH.
Thomas takes us beyond the simple rise and fall of these talented designers. Flipping the industry we’ve come to know on its head, she reveals a dark world and lucrative structures – veiled to us through glitzy catwalks and snapping photographers. With their appointments to Dior and Givenchy, Galliano and McQueen both made fashion youthful, vibrant and sexy again.
Highlighting the similarities and differences in their temperament, charisma and style, Thomas explores both their individual talent and the changing nature of fashion over the 80s, 90s and noughties. The result is a deeply engrossing, fast-paced and illuminating read. Galliano and McQueen weren’t simply driven and gifted: they wanted to revolutionise fashion in a way that no one had in decades. And, for a while they succeeded, albeit paying a high price.
Galliano’s and McQueen’s work not only influenced fashion; their distinct styles were reflected across the media landscape. With their help, luxury fashion evolved from a clutch of small, family-owned businesses into a $280 billion-a-year global corporate industry. Executives pushed the designers to meet increasingly rapid deadlines. For both Galliano and McQueen, the pace was unsustainable.
As consumers flocked, their corporate benefactors rewarded them with great perks such as chauffeur-driven Sedans, private jets and lucrative pay-checks. Designers ‘became as famous as rock stars’ with the press deeming them ‘kings.’ And so began this relationship best coined as Gods and Kings – an ostentatious term that is equally suggestive of the dynamic and hierarchy between moguls and designers.
The book is a detailed and most revealing account of how luxury fashion has changed from a creativity haven to a dehumanised, corporate industry. Adding tycoons and financiers into the mix with aggressive business strategies in the 1990s have sustained brands that are synonymous with extravagance and couture. Without them, the likes of Givenchy and Dior may not be the powerhouses they are today.
Gods and Kings by Dana Thomas (Allen Lane), £20 (paperback). Also available as ibook