John Galliano’s 18th Century Pannier Revival

Someone’s been in the 18th century bubbly…with a side of pierogi. It’s John Galliano, one of the leading high fashion designers in the world.

His Spring 2009 collection blended heavy embroideries, fur, pom-poms, and extravagant Mucha-esque headdresses, with the single most identifiable fashion trend of the 18th century, the pannier. Do panniers work in our modern mode of dress? Do they work on the runway even, that fantasy land of frivolity?
There is no question that what Galliano and other designers, such as Alexander McQueen, have done is not ready-to-wear, but that was never quite the point. What these designers do for their runway shows is create three dimensional textile art that rides about on a tall, size 2 canvas. Just like a painting, a sketch, even a poem, there exists in high fashion an inspiration, a composition, and a blending of senses. There is a motivation, a message (not always one of beauty), often an irony, or a juxtaposition of interest. Galliano has blended historical inspirations from two worlds: that of the Russian peasant, and that of the 18th century European aristocrat.

This is not the first time Galliano has looked to the 18th century for inspiration. His breakout collection in 1984 was inspired by The French Revolution, and entitled Les Incroyables, harkening back to a then-current fashion trend among the young French revolutionaries.
In fact, fashion in the 18th century was nearly as outlandish as runway looks are today. Fashion plates of the time often depict highly unwearable gowns on fantastically thin models, and ladies of various courts were always designing new court gowns to be the most eye-catching and avante garde, so as to attract attention…just like fashion designers today. Look out our beloved Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who was known for her outlandish fashion sense and coiffure. Appearing one night with a four-foot-high tower of hair and ostrich plumes, she would be on to the next trend while the rest of high society were merely just beginning to order their wigs and feathers. All this being said, I cannot disagree or dislike what Galliano has done with his panners and Russian babushka looks. They’re interesting, and they’re new, however unwearable. I believe giving a nod to the past (and I don’t mean the 1950s!) is a wonderful thing, and will eventually siphon down in some form to everyday clothing that you and I can both enjoy.

The revival of the pannier, though? I think not…


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