Why John Galliano Loves This Vest

November 17, 2010


Photo © LACMA/Museum Associates

One of the garments receiving a lot of attention in Fashioning Fashion is this vest, and one of its many admirers is designer John Galliano. He’s chronicled his vest love in the preface to the exhibition catalogue—a snippet of which we thought we’d share with you here.


Photo © LACMA/Museum Associates


Photo © LACMA/Museum Associates

I was particularly taken with a gentleman’s vest; it is simply charmant (charming), to quote the coquettish collar. The piece dates back to the eighteenth century and the time of the French Revolution, an era I have always found to be a rich source of inspiration. You can spend hours studying this vest. It gives many clues about the turbulent time, weaving style with politics, rebellion, and the tricolore. Here fashion speaks its owner’s mind through intricate needlework and beauty rather than through the violence of the day. As well as the collar, other clues can be found on the pockets. One is the phrase. “L’HABIT NE FAIT PAS LE MOINE” (“The habit does not make the monk”), a caution to never judge a book by its cover or, indeed, take things, such as fashion, and its wearer, on face value alone. The other pocket reads, ‘HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE,” a motto I recognized from the English Order of the Garter, which originally comes from the Old French saying, “Shame upon him who thinks evil of it.” Powerful messages to carry on your person! It is genius. I love the hidden messages and use of heroic symbolism and dandy analogy to, quite literally, wear your loyalties on your chest. For me fashion is there to empower, but you can also play with it, and use it to disguise and conceal. This vest is a brilliant example of all this. It also serves as a strong visual reminder to always look past the frosting and seek the person within.

So, why don’t you look even closer at the vest? There are still many clues to unravel. Through its design and embroidery it tells how the wealthy once dressed like caterpillars by day, ostentatious butterflies by night, but then had to remember their loyalty to the state, to the blue, white, and red. This wearer is, as the collar hints, a bit of a charmer and seems to play it safe and profess both loyalties. Take the tiny lapels: they are embroidered, one with a shorn caterpillar, the other with a butterfly with its wings cut. Does this mean the wearer’s wings have been cut? Ort is he glad that the rich, with their decadent ways, have been stopped? Well, this he can debate whichever way the company prefers…

I wish I had been commissioned to design this vest; it is a masterpiece of fashion and function as well as showing sadness, sympathy, beauty, and wit. The vest is both a political and a fashion statement that captures the mood at the beginning of a new era. It also shows how style reacted, like a fickle mirror, and instantly rejected the gaudy finery so beloved before...

For more on the Fashioning Fashion catalogue, or to purchase your own copy, visit LACMA’s online store.

Brooke Fruchtman