Beginning in August, Phoenix Art Museum presents A Tribute to James Galanos, a retrospective dedicated to the iconic American fashion designer. Featuring more than 40 couture-quality, ready-to-wear ensembles and accessories, including an ensemble worn and donated by former First Lady Nancy Reagan, the exhibition illuminates the designer’s influence and legacy with objects from the 1950s through the 1990s.
“A black dress,” Galanos once said, “reveals everything: line, cut, drape, seaming. It must be perfection.” From his selection of the finest fabrics to his impeccable construction and finishing, the designer’s exacting standards resulted in an elegant simplicity that became a hallmark of his work.
Born in Philadelphia in 1924 to parents who had emigrated from Greece, Galanos and his three sisters worked in their parents’ South Jersey restaurant. “As a young boy, I had no fashion influence around me,” Galanos recalled in a 1980 interview, “but all the while I was dreaming of Paris and New York.”
He began his career in 1944 as an assistant to Hattie Carnegie in New York, and spent the next several years in a series of jobs, including a position as a part-time sketch artist in the Columbia Pictures costume department, where he worked for the legendary Jean Louis.
In 1951, he opened Galanos Originals in Los Angeles. His early success led Galanos to begin dressing some of the most famous women in the world, including the Duchess of Windsor, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Grace Kelly, Rosalind Russell and Diana Ross. He is perhaps best known as the favorite designer of the late Nancy Reagan.
Until his retirement in 1998, Galanos continued to design for his discerning clientele, who appreciated the timeless quality of his work, which could be worn throughout the decades, always retaining his trademark elegant simplicity. As the designer’s longtime friend, fashion collector Tatiana Sorokko observes, “When you look at his overall career, nobody else in American fashion has been able to achieve the same level of quality. And he produced everything in his factory on Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles.”
The exhibition spans five decades of Galanos designs from the permanent collection and private lenders, as well as never before seen photographs from his personal archives. A supporter of Phoenix Art Museum’s programs, Galanos personally donated a group of his designs to the fashion collection in 1990 and participated in several of its events.
Highlights of the show include gowns made for Galanos’ clients including Sybil Harrington, Kitty Carlyle Hart, Nancy Reagan, Ann Bonefory Taylor and Marie Vanderbilt Whitney, as well as contemporary collectors including Tatiana Sorokko, Gelila Puck and Ralph Rucci.
A Tribute to James Galanos
Aug. 19, 2017 – Jan. 7, 2018
Phoenix Art Museum, Ellman Fashion Design Gallery, 1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
For more information, visit phxart.org.