Although Los Angeles-based designer James Galanos is world famous and heaped with honors, he was "frankly surprised" when L.A.'s Otis/Parsons School of Design recently announced him the recipient of their Design Achievement Award.
Galanos introduces every new collection in New York, and for that reason, he has somehow concluded, he is "not terribly known out here."
Humility is not his only well-known trait. He's been tagged "distant and not very cooperative," he says, but he is "merely shy." The shyness was evident twice recently: at the Otis/ Parson awards gala and at Amen Wardy in Newport Beach, where he appeared with his spring collection.
In response to the enthusiastic applause of Wardy guests, he reluctantly took a few steps down the runway (flanked by models), bowed slightly and beat a hasty retreat.
Moments later, the real Galanos, the man legendary for attention to detail, surfaced. With his reading glasses hanging from clenched teeth, he darted relentlessly from rack to rack, selecting garments for faithful clients.
Galanos showed very short skirts on the runway, but only, he notes, "to make a statement, to say short is the fashionable way to wear clothes today. If a woman has good legs, maybe she'll wear her skirts to the knee, maybe slightly above. But it's all according to age and type. No one dictates today."
His fabrics are considered the finest Europe has to offer: "The ultimate luxury in goods," he calls them, and while they are often used by French designers, such as Ungaro, Yves Saint Laurent and Givenchy, Galanos has a one-year exclusive on them in the United States.
At the recent Otis/Parsons student fashion show and gala dinner, a number of women paid homage to the designer by wearing their favorite Galanos gowns. First Lady Nancy Reagan, whom Galanos says he has known since her actress days, sent a telegram which read, in part: "You are an inspiration to so many, Jimmy."
Introduced to the black-tie crowd as "one of the great artists of our time" and "an American original," Galanos spoke briefly, explaining: "I know tonight is really a students' night."
And it was. The student show was filled with sound, wearable fashion statements and ended with a witty segment of costume designs.
Thirteen students, who had spent the school year working under the guidance of successful designers such as Leon Max, Gilda Marx, Roberto Robledo, David Hayes and Eletra Casadei, walked away with the evening's awards.
In the Georges Marciano-guided denim category, Erin Nash won for a timely, midriff-baring outfit. In swimwear, Cynthia Vincent, working with Mattie Hillel of Anne Cole, was the winner for her unusual pouf-trimmed suits.
There was no mistaking the "Designer of the Year" talent of Dat Tran, whose work was outstanding in three segments, including menswear designed under the direction of John Leitch for Axis.
For 23-year old Tran, who came to the United States from Vietnam in 1975, the evening was a victory in more ways than one. His wool-knit outfit, consisting of a chocolate-brown circle coat and straight skirt worn with a shocking-violet bodysuit, was purchased twice for $850 during the course of a silent auction to benefit the school's scholarship program.
The young designer, who plans to work in New York, won a personal victory as well. His parents, he explained, "wanted me to be a doctor. They disapproved of my studying to be a designer, because they didn't think it would ever result in a steady job. Now they're very, very proud."