Fashion legend James Galanos, best known as Nancy Reagan’s favorite designer but who also dressed scores of wealthy and famous clients over his long career died October 30 from natural causes, according to his friend, fellow designer Ralph Rucci. He was 92. Galanos became famous when Nancy Reagan, long known as a client, became First Lady and often wore his clothing to official events. He his designs were widely praised for their longevity, with many of his famous creations remaining stylish for decades despite rapidly changing fashion trends.
Born in 1924 in Philadelphia, Galanos grew up sketching and began his career after high school, first with a brief stint at the Traphagen School of Fashion before deciding practical experience would be more valuable than what he would learn in school. A variety of jobs and work as a freelancer selling his sketches to manufacturers followed. In 1945, hired by textile magnate Lawrence Lesavoy to make clothing for his wife, he was sent to Los Angeles. He lost this job soon after when the Lesavoy’s divorced.
Staying in L.A., he became a part-time assistant sketch artist to Jean Louis, head costume designer at Columbia Pictures, but was sent to Paris by Lawrence Lesavoy where he became an assistant to Paris-based designer Robert Piguet. He returned to the U.S. in 1948, and to Los Angeles in 1951, the next year founding his own line of clothes, Galanos Originals. Galanos Originals was picked up by shops favored by wealthy women like Neiman Marcus and Saks, firmly establishing his in-demand career.
During the 1950s he also started making movie costumes, going on to do so for such luminaries as Judy Garland and later, Diana Ross, among many others. His clothing became known for extreme luxuriousness, in particular for use of furs like mink, sable, lynx and broadtail. His expensive designs were beyond what normal consumers could afford but the very wealthy, often politically connected elites – like Nancy Reagan – were loyal and frequent customers. His famous customers include Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Grace Kelly, Dorothy Lamour, Ivana Trump, and Kim Basinger, among many others.
He retired in 1998, citing an increasingly informal default in fashion, after which he pursued photography.