September 20th, 1924: Fashion Designer James Galanos was born in Philadelphia, the only son of Greek-born parents who immigrated from Naousa, Greece. His mother, Helen Gorgoliatos, and his father, Gregory Galanos, a frustrated artist, ran a restaurant in southern New Jersey, where Galanos had his first glimpses of well-dressed women.
He grew up a shy boy and learned to work hard from an early age. Galanos recalled that he was “a loner, surrounded by three sisters. I never sewed; I just sketched. It was simply instinctive. As a young boy, I had no fashion influences around me, but all the while I was dreaming of Paris and New York.”
During his long career, Galanos earned the most accolades his industry had to offer, including several Coty Awards (he was the youngest designer to win one, in 1954), a lifetime achievement award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America and a bronze plaque on Seventh Avenue’s Fashion Walk of Fame. He dressed the famous and the socially prominent- the ladies who “lunched” from Park Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue – and outfitted Mrs. Reagan on four inaugural occasions, twice after Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California and twice after he became president.“Ronnie liked Jimmy’s clothes very much,” Mrs. Reagan said in a 2007 interview with Vanity Fair magazine. “Wearing Jimmy meant never going overboard or to extremes. Jimmy really set the standard.”
“While he officially retired in 1998,” wrote Alix Browne in The New York Times, “he shows no signs of falling out of fashion.” Galanos’ vintage gowns remain chic, sought after and popular among the international jet-set, Hollywood stars and supermodels, and have been seen on such notable women as Celine Dion, Renée Zellweger, Nicole Kidman, Jessica Alba, Heidi Klum,Tatiana Sorokko, Amber Valletta, Christina Ricci, Ashley Olsen and Katie Holmes, among many others.
Having reinvented himself as an abstract photographer, in 2006, at age 82, Galanos’ first exhibition of photography was held to great acclaim at the Serge Sorokko Gallery in San Francisco. The show featured more than 40 photographs taken by Galanos over the previous several years. The works were mostly abstract, with the notable exception of a few mystical, mirror-effect enigmatic landscapes. Much like fashion design, his photography revolves around material, shape, and color. The subjects were crafted by Galanos out of paper or fabric and then photographed in evocative light, creating subtle variations of tone and shading.
Galanos was named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1982. He was inducted into the Coty Hall of Fame in 1959. His other honors included the Crystal Ball Award from The Fashion Group of Philadelphia, 1963; the Fashion Award from the Drexel Institute of Technology, 1965; the London Sunday Times International Award, 1968; the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Golden 44 Award, 1980; a Diploma di Merita from the Universita delle Arte Terme, Italy, 1981. Galanos also received the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America Lifetime Achievement Award in 1985. In the year 2000, the City of New York began honoring American fashion designers by placing bronze plaques along the pavement of Seventh Avenue. Dubbed the “Fashion Walk of Fame”, Galanos was one of the first designers to be so honored. In 2007, he became the recipient of the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style Award, and one year later, in 2008, he received a Doctor of Philosophy degree honoris causa from the San Francisco Academy of Art University.
Galanos was the subject of numerous museum solo exhibitions, and his designs are in the permanent collections of important museums worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Victoria and Albert Museum in London, U.K, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in Los Angeles, Musée Galliera in Paris, France, the Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC, the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, N.Y., the Brooklyn Museum in Brooklyn, N.Y. and the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco, California, to name a few.
Galanos’ career spanned more than half a century. “To James Galanos, fashion is all about making women look beautiful,” wrote Anne-Marie Schiro in The New York Times, “and he has devoted 44 years of his life to designing clothes to that end.”He “was always a hero to all those who worshiped at the feet of fashion, not just those who wore the clothes”, wrote Bernadine Morris in an introduction to the catalog of Galanos’s retrospective exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1996.
“He was heralded as the equal of any of the mythic group of French designers who represented the apotheosis of fashion. The difference, then and now, is that Galanos’ clothes were ready-to-wear; the French Haute Couture made custom clothes. In this, he is truly an American designer. For, in this country, it is ready-to-wear that dominates fashion, a lesson the French learned after he pointed the way. This may be James Galanos’ major contribution to the fashion world: he brought brilliance and quality to styles meant to be bought off the rack”.
Galanos never married. He was the uncle of fine jewelry designer Diana Vincent, of Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania. He retired in 1998 and lived in Palm Springs, California and West Hollywood. Galanos died on October 30, 2016, at the age of 92.