James Galanos: A Forgotten American Designer


The next recreation will be James Galanos’ 1957 dress, that he designed exclusively for McCall’s Pattern Company.


There’s a misconception that the dress you see above was worn by Grace Kelly in Hitchcock’s 1954 movie, Rear Window. The pattern was actually issued in 1957, a full three years after the movie was released. Although Galanos did work in the film industry, (he was an apprentice to costume designer Jean Louis at Columbia Pictures), Galanos didn't create the Grace Kelly costume that you see below. Instead, it was the Hollywood costume designer, Edith Head, who designed Kelly's famous wardrobe for the movie, not Mr. Galanos. Therefore, this sewing pattern is not a replica of Grace Kelly’s dress, although, they appear to be very similar in silhouette, and both present in a black and white color combination. Even the illustrated model on the McCall's pattern cover, along with her shoes, and pearls, are eerily similar to Grace Kelly’s character.



Galanos trained in Paris as an assistant to couturier Robert Piguet, where he worked alongside Balmain, Givenchy, and Bohan. Galanos worked there for several years, until his return to the United States in 1948.


In 1951, the young Galanos transitioned from the film industry, and began designing and selling his collection to Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills and to Neiman Marcus (under the "Galanos Originals" name) at the age of 28.


By the time Galanos released the above pattern, designed exclusively for McCall's in 1957, he had already won fashion awards, such as the Coty American Fashion Critics award in both 1954 and 1956.



Galanos, winner of Coty American Fashion Critic's Award. NYT, Oct 12, 1954

When asked about his design philosophy, Galanos responded, "I create a line with youth in mind, for I know that all women like to look youthful. I do not believe in following trends, and consequently I never come out with anything radical. Detail is an essential in all of my designing."


"I create a line with youth in mind, for I know that all women like to look youthful. I do not believe in following trends, and consequently I never come out with anything radical. Detail is an essential in all of my designing." - James Galanos

Below is a model wearing the Galanos dress from the McCall’s 1957 counter book. It is described as a “glamorous short evening gown with far-flung organdie skirt.”




Galanos' time in Hollywood didn't go to waste. There, he met supportive, lifelong starlets and dressed celebrities including the likes of: Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, Diana Ross, and, yes, even Grace Kelly. He dressed the political elite, including Jackie Kennedy, the Duchess of Windsor, and Nancy Reagan, both when she was an actress and after she entered political life.



Nancy Reagan in 1981 wearing a white floor-length sequined gown under a silk jacket with a ruffled collar while leaving the White House with President Ronald Reagan on the way to the inaugural ball.
Nancy Reagan wearing Galanos in 1981: On the way to the inaugural ball


While Galanos may have become a forgotten name in fashion today, he was once at the very top of the fashion world as America’s most beloved couturier.


Stay tuned for the next blog post, which will show how I made the dress!

672 views4 comments

Recent Posts

See All