John Galliano was born to a Spanish mother and Gibraltarian father, and Spanish heritage remains an integral part of Galliano’s life and work.
He spent the first six years of his life submerged in a sensuous wonderland: Mediterranean colour and swirling, woven textile surrounded him at every turn. Such an environment kindled a love of textiles and design in Galliano from an early age, and Latin influences are prevalent in his later work.
In 1966, Galliano and his family moved to London. A massive culture shock awaited Galliano, as he was removed from his more vibrant former surroundings. His family prided itself immensely on appearance and each time he left the house as a child, Galliano was immaculately turned out. These standards of dressing, especially when he compared himself with his more slovenly English schoolmates, made him stand out and taught him important standards of dress, which he would require later in life.
However, he was not considered an outstanding student. It was not until Galliano reached design school and was around people more like himself that he began to flourish.
Once Galliano had graduated from City and East London College, he enrolled at Central Saint Martins, where he made a remarkable impact. His graduation collection, titled ‘Les Incroyables’, made brilliant by his romantic flair and diligence, received huge approval. Indeed, his whole line was hastily snapped up and put into the window of Browns boutique. Galliano left Central Saint Martins in 1983 with a first class degree and a healthy stockpile of critical acclaim.
In 1984, Galliano unleashed his own label. More critical approval followed. His daring reinvention of romantic themes and delicate, superbly tailored garments were his trademarks.
In 1987, he received the ‘British Designer of the Year’ award. However, critical success was not matched by major financial success. He lost backers and did not have enough money to show for several seasons. In frustration, he quit London for Paris in the early 1990s. This was not an immediate solution. Several times Galliano was almost forced to declare bankruptcy. This was made all the more bitter by the fact that, while he struggled for money, his critical praise continued unabated.
Fortunately, the admiration of the fashion community allowed him to continue. Fashion editors and critics were always busy trying to get work for Galliano, and models, like Kate Moss, worked for him out of friendship rather than money.
In 1995, Galliano finally got the break he so richly deserved: he became the first Englishman to head a French couture house, when he was put in charge of Givenchy. Immersing himself in the role, he went on to present his first couture show at the helm of the company at the beginning of 1996, impressing those who attended the event at the Stade Francais. The collection was well received, with adulation and praise for his creative genius coming from critics and the fashion media.
Impressed by this success and others, luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, which owned Givenchy, had Galliano transferred to Christian Dior less than two years later, where he replaced Italian designer Gianfranco Ferre.
He staged his first couture show for the luxury brand in January 1997, the same time the label was celebrating its 50th anniversary. The same year also saw Galliano gain recognition after being declared British Designer of the Year, although he had to share the award with Alexander McQueen, his successor at Givenchy. This was the fourth time he had won the accolade, having triumphed in 1987, 1994 and 1995.
His knack for taking themes and styles, often Latin or romantic, from the past, and somehow making them contemporary and edgy, was astonishing. Perhaps just as remarkable was the perseverance and conviction of the man. He managed to keep his talent undiluted through difficult times and emerged with glory and success.
In 1996, Galliano moved to Christian Dior, unveiling his first couture collection for them on January 20th 1997 to coincide with the fashion house's 50th anniversary.
Galliano won the British Designer of the Year award again in 1994 and 1995. In addition he shared the award in 1997 with the late Alexander McQueen. In 2001, the designer was awarded a CBE in the Queen's birthday honours list.
However, Galliano hit the headlines for all of the wrong reasons in 2011 when a video emerged of him allegedly making anti-sematic remarks to Italian tourists in a Paris bar. Actress Natalie Portman, who is the face of the Miss Dior Cherie fragrance and is of Jewish ancestry, said she was disgusted by the comments.
After suspending the designer in February 2011, Dior announced in March 2011 that it has begun proceedings to permanently dismiss Galliano. Dior chief executive Sidney Toledano said he "firmly" condemned the remarks made by the fashion designer.
However, he has made public attempts to attone for his mistakes and has returned to designing.