THE MOMENT: John Galliano’s Madame Butterfly

For this weekly column, writer Mishal Cazmi highlights an iconic collection, person or collaboration, and explores its influence on style and pop culture. Above, John Galliano’s Spring 2007 couture show for Christian Dior.

Love, pain, desire, and despair. It’s the story of Giacomo Puccini’s 1904 opera, Madame Butterfly. The tale has been retold many times since its inception—Pierre Loti’s 1888 novel, Madame Chrysantheme—but remains most recognized in its operatic form.

Set in Nagasaki, Japan, it tells the story of an American sailor, B.F. Pinkerton, who marries and then abandons a young Japanese geisha named Cio-Cio-San, more famously known as Madame Butterfly.

It must have been the histrionics of classical opera that attracted John Galliano. He was most famously inspired by Madame Butterfly, or in his own words, “by Pinkerton’s affair with Cio-Cio San, Madame Butterfly.” And why not? The designer is no stranger to theatricality.

For his Spring 2007 couture collection for Christian Dior, Galliano’s presentation was all about sumptuous silk and couture kimonos.

Paris became Nagasaki as models transformed into modern geishas and walked the ivory runway. The music? Not just Puccini’s soaring arias, but a musical medley beginning with Malcolm McLaren’s “Madame Butterfly,” whose interpretation of the famous “Un bel di vedremo” marked the direction of the rest of the show.

The show also referenced the West’s own affair with the East. Fashion’s fascination (some may call it fetishism) with Japonisme extends well past Galliano to Paul Poiret, the turn-of-the-century couturier who created the kimono coat. Ever since, Western designers have been beguiled by kimonos and okobos (see McQueen’s dual heel shoes modelled after Japanese wooden clogs).

Christian Louboutin’s Madame Butterfly heels are yet another example of Japonisme‘s modern momentum. The shoes may have nothing to do with the opera itself, but they’re proof of Madame Butterfly‘s fashionable influence stepping confidently into the future.

Christian Louboutin’s Madame Butterfly heels.

A kimono coat by Paul Poiret.

An illustration of Paul Poiret’s Japanese-inspired couture.

Photos by Hedi Slimane for Vogue Homme Japan, 2008.

Carmen Kass stars in a Vogue Japan editorial, December 2008.

Irving Penn’s 1999 homage to Star Wars (2.0) has a Japonisme vibe.

Last looks from Galliano’s Madame Butterfly-inspired show.

Further viewing

You can watch the entire Madame Butterfly-inspired Christian Dior show here. Beautiful!

Further reading

Madame Butterfly: Japonisme, Puccini, and the Search for the Real Cho-Cho-San by Jan van Rij

Japonisme: Cultural Crossings Between Japan and the West by Lionel Lambourne

Read more of The Moment: stories on Françoise Hardy, Annie Hall, Catherine Deneuve and more.

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