John Galliano’s collection for Christian Dior’s Fall 2000 Couture show opened with a voice ominously chanting “understand the concept of love.” As the silhouette of a corseted, pope-like figure started walking, the audience could see his hollow cheeks and swinging thurible, releasing wisps of incense onto the catwalk.
A bride and groom followed the pope. The bride wore a soft smile and a silk wedding gown that trailed behind her, while the groom was somber and adorned a green carnation pinned to his suit—a subtle hint to the fact that he’s actually gay.
The show continued with an eclectic bunch of characters that were presumably attending this fictional wedding, which started off innocent enough before chaos ensued. The secrets of the wedding party were revealed with each model, increasingly suggesting this isn’t the wedding or family that we expected. By putting fetishism, sex, and religion in conversation with each other, Galliano and Dior created an iconic collection that both shocked the audience and used its shock value to cleverly comment on the social institutions of gender, marriage, and the nuclear family.
The production’s narrative became more and more obvious as it tackled binaries like man and woman, Heaven and Hell, sacred and profane, and pleasure and pain. It playfully bent the construct of gender by having some female models with mustaches or traditionally masculine silhouettes.
One second, we saw women’s necks dripping in jewels, their pleated chiffon skirts swaying from side to side. Next, there was a model in a ringmaster suit leading another on a leash—all emphasizing the binaries Galliano sought to destabilize.
The music that went along with the show was just as erratic and unpredictable as the clothing. Screechy violins from Psycho’s infamous murder scene played as a model glided down the runway wearing a crocodile-skin dress and a speared crocodile head as a hat. Cymbals clashed as the Kabuki marionette made its way across the platform, whips cracking and women moaning as models walked in bondage gear.
Two decades later, Galliano’s collection has retained relevance. The collection’s artistic impact is still a source of inspiration in the fashion industry today, as highlighted by the 2018 Met Gala. The theme, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” was partially inspired by Galliano’s “transgressive” Fall 2000 Couture collection for Dior. It was supposed to be a way to view the intersections between faith and fashion in the context of “artistic production,” according to Vogue.
And that it did.
Similar to Galliano’s collection, the Gala caused a bit of controversy: some accused the Met of appropriating Catholic religion, while some were just outright offended that sacred religious materials had been paired with risque haute couture. The event toyed with the binary between sacred and profane, just as Galliano had by creating a show in which sex and fetishism made their way into a holy matrimony.
At the Met, Rihanna—who was actually dressed by Galliano—came in wearing a bejeweled pope costume, just like the one that opened the 2000 show. Honoring Galliano’s subversive ways, Rihanna challenged the conventions of popehood in the designer’s tradition of questioning the gender binary and religion. Women aren’t allowed to become ordained priests and, in turn, can never be eligible to rule the Vatican. With the singer’s bold look, she effectively hinted at Catholicism’s bias against women.
The Dior show threw perversity in viewers’ faces—its vision was full of sex and the disturbing takes one can have on it.
Galliano’s collection marked the era of haute couture that’s responsible for taking taboo topics like sex and fetishes into the marketable realm of “edgy” and “interesting.” Instead of continuing to hide the link between fashion and fetishism and having models walk in flowing gowns that cover their tightly-bound corsets and eight-inch heels, Galliano put all the fetishistic elements on display. This show is one of the reasons that we can see Lily Collins in a latex LBD at the 2020 MTV Movie Awards or Lil Nas X in a—as Billboard put it—”edgy” hot pink leather chest harness and matching studded jacket at the 2020 Grammys.
Latex dresses, leather harnesses, O-ring necklaces, studded and spiked handbags—all pieces with roots in fetishism—have been popularized and are now interwoven with mainstream fashion because of shows like Galliano’s.
While the Met was more subtle with its mission, it followed this current and carried Galliano’s bold, tongue-in-cheek sentiment with its defiance of gender and social norms. It’s obvious Galliano’s collection is a masterpiece that has stood the test of time.
By Aarohi Sheth