Dubbed Black Narcissus, this dress, styled with long black gloves and ample net petticoats, appeared as look no. 158 in Galanos's Fall 1957 collection. It is crafted from a warp-printed taffeta Aleoutienne (with a pure silk warp and dupione, or slubbed, weft) from Staron, supplier to Dior, Balenciaga, Fath, Grès, and Givenchy. Headquartered in Saint-Étienne, France's passementerie capital in the Loire, Staron began as a ribbon weaving firm in 1867, but shifted focus to dress silks following World War II. Paris-based Suzanne Kientz designed this technically elaborate pattern, which required eleven separate screens (one for each color) to print on the warp threads, which were held together with a temporary weft, later removed and the warps remounted to be woven permanently. In October 1957, New Yorker fashion critic Lois Long highlighted such lavish "winter prints" including "a variety of full-skirted, short-sleeved dance dresses in warp-printed taffeta" from Galanos. The silk contributed to the dress's enormous retail cost of $359.75, roughly $3,500 today. At 420 francs to the dollar, this is exactly the same price (150,000 francs) of an afternoon or cocktail dress from the same season by the world's most expensive couturier, and Galanos's idol, Cristóbal Balenciaga.
In fact, Balenciaga chose the same fabric in a direct print, not warp printed, for look number 147 in his February 1957 haute couture collection, ordered, appropriately, by noted horticulturalist Rachel "Bunny" Mellon (Museo Balenciaga, Guetaria; 2014.18). Maggy Rouff also used the same fabric for an afternoon dress called Jardin Anglais in her Spring 1957 collection.
Galanos's "great contribution to fashion," according to Women's Wear Daily publisher and editor in chief John Fairchild, was his intellectual approach, "his passion for finding new seams and new ways to put a dress together." In this dress, that intellectualism takes the form of subtle historical allusions, such as the bifurcated waist, with a deep, boned point at the proper right rising to a complete horizontal at the left. Nearly nine yards of silk are gathered with tiny knife pleats to this seam, one continuous arc that neatly materializes the historical trajectory of the waistline from about 1840 to 1860. The bouffant skirt quotes eighteenth-century, 1840s, and 1920s robe de style silhouettes simultaneously. Each of these eras, as well as the late 1950s, emphasized an elongated, dropped waist and voluminous hips. As one advertisement for California department store I. Magnin noted of this model, Galanos "gives a woman the hand-span waist, the voluminous skirt that makes her look her most fragile, most glamorous." Further nods to the 1840s include the wide, high sweetheart neckline and short "jockey" sleeves.
For more information, see the Cora Ginsburg Modern 2019 catalogue.