NEW YORK -- James Galanos flew out of the West last week with trunks bearing his spring and summer collection, his appointment book filled with the names of prominent retailers.
Last year, this Los Angeles designer celebrated his 40th anniversary, but there was no party.
"I have more important things to spend my money on," he said in the Plaza Hotel suite that served as his East Coast showroom. Then his manner softened. "I'm very happy I have been in business these 40 years," he said. "That is something of an accomplishment."
Almost from the beginning of his career he produced one of the highest-priced, ready-to-wear collections in this country, with costs approaching those of made-to-order clothes. This spring, his designs start at around $4,000 and climb steeply.
His top-quality fabrics, painstaking workmanship, and
figure-enhancing shapes are not new. They are, in fact, staples of Galanos collections. What is remarkable this time is the effect of stunning simplicity that permeates the entire collection.
Nothing looks overblown. With a fertile imagination that has only grown over the years, Galanos has often embellished his clothes with myriad details based on complicated structures.
Not this time. The fabrics flow. Something as basic as a shirt turns into a marvelously graceful dress with a collar that curves to flatter a neckline and a skirt that billows out and makes a statement about hem lengths.
A panel that runs the length of a long evening dress is rounded to suggest the body's curves. Jackets of dinner suits are artfully fitted without ever closing in front.
There are modern concepts like a lacy bodysuit under a dress made of the same white lace. The matching underwear does not detract from the sexy effect, but it banishes vulgarity.
The ribbon styles are a tour de force. They were favorites of the
store buyers who viewed the collection last week.
A popular evening dress consists of a bodice and big sleeves made of black satin ribbons attached to a flowing shape of brightly colored brocade. The lattice effect of the satin strips is provocative, but the ribbon bands are anchored to chiffon for security.
Another successful style has ribbon strips forming a yoke above a full tucked and pleated skirt, proving that clothes do not have to be skintight to look sexy.
The designer insists he has always favored pants but has had trouble convincing his customers to wear them. "If they want to wear trousers, they may pick up a cheaper pair," he said.
Well, this season he made a special effort. Using box pleats on each leg, he sets up a flurry of movement at the ankles. Other trousers are cut with curves at the bottom to serve as a frame for ankle-strap shoes.
The designer of innumerable clinging and bouncy evening dresses pointed to a model showing a creamy-white, silk-crepe overblouse with matching box-pleated pants. A satin scarf ending in pockets was draped around her neck.
"Now that's my idea of a perfect way to dress when you're going out to dinner," he said with satisfaction.
Galanos has such technical skill that he can successfully design any kind of clothes he wants. It is significant that this time he made them look simple. As a result, they are much more accessible. And there has been no sacrifice of quality.