Explosive docu-series Kingdom of Dreams explores the rivalries and rising stars behind the ‘golden age’ of fashion
Fashion, for all its glamour and grandeur, has a dark underbelly. Historic feuding between couture houses and the power struggles of their financial puppeteers make for an industry rife with contention, as well as prime material for a highly watchable documentary series. That’s exactly what is delivered in Sky Original series Kingdom of Dreams, which lays bare some of the most famous fashion feuds of the last three decades, with a dramatic quality befitting such tales.
The characteristics of the series will be familiar to anyone who watched producers Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui’s previous project, the BAFTA-nominated McQueen, with its similarly ominous soundtrack and dark opening sequence. Based on journalist and author Dana Thomas’s book Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, this time their subject is much broader, as they take on the defining moments of the 90s and 00s.
By painting the story of four designers armed with the task to change Haute Couture forever, the series investigates how John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford propped up a billion-dollar industry, and their relationship to their paymasters, Bernard Arnault and François Pinault.
Tatler investigates what we learnt from the series exploring the tale of ‘how fashion went corporate’, which Bonhote describes as a ‘constant fight between commerce and creativity’.
London’s finest stepped in to save French couture
The series does well to translate the exciting energy that emerged on the scene during the 90s, giving fresh force to the European fashion houses. Still family owned and run, a new era was fast approaching, ignited by CEO and founder of the LVMH group, Bernard Arnault, who bought Givenchy and Dior. Arnault would place the best emerging talent from London at the top of his brands, to guarantee success for his expanding business.
Hailing from southeast London, John Galliano, an emerging talent fresh from Central St Martins in 1984 – with a collection inspired by the French revolution – was hired by Arnault as Creative Director of Givenchy. He later replaced Galliano with Alexander McQueen, another outspoken CSM graduate from London’s East End, putting Galliano at Dior. The British sons of a plumber and a taxi driver, respectively, they would go on to shift fashion’s axis forever.
New York vs. London powerhouses
Across the pond, two designers armed with keys to Gucci and Louis Vuitton were also making waves in the fashion world. Parsons School of Design graduates Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs were the American talent representing the best of the New York fashion school. Ford would go on to take the creative reigns at the Italian fashion house Gucci, while Arnault would place Jacobs at the helm of Louis Vuitton.
Tom Ford turned Gucci into a sensual powerhouse
In 1994, Ford was promoted to Creative Director at Gucci, having worked for the brand as a knitwear designer. In his first year at the helm, with a cowboyish edge, he introduced velvet hip riding trousers, satin shirts and metallic patent boots, as modelled by Kate Moss and Amber Valetta. The reaction was electric; Ford had made Gucci sexy again.
Before Ford took over, the fashion house was struggling to pay its staff members. In 1995, he brought in French stylist Carine Roitfeld and photographer Mario Testino to create a series of ad campaigns for the company. Between 1995 and 1996, sales at the brand increased by 90 per cent. By 1999, the house, which had been on the edge of bankruptcy when Ford joined, was valued at more than $4 billion.
Impoverished artists to luxury designers
Like any great artist dedicated to their craft, Galliano, Jacobs and McQueen, initially struggled with earning enough money to sustain their productivity. The late American Vogue Editor, André Leon Talley, is credited with helping Galliano ‘back on his feet’.
The Cut wrote: ‘In 1994, John Galliano was a man on the brink. The designer had lost his backer and was living in squalor in Paris.’ Tally helped Galliano find new investment and arranged for him to show his first collection at São Schlumberger, a wealthy art patron’s home. He apparently also went on McDonald’s runs for the staff and served as an usher for the designer.
Galliano’s friends included a number of supermodels, who agreed to walk in his first show, for free, including Linda Evangelista, who famously said ‘I don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day.’
Designers weren’t the only rivals
Galliano’s vision was a romantic one, while McQueen’s was a twisted fantasy. Pitched against one another, they were the ultimate professional rivals of the era. There was also an American/British rivalry, between Galliano, McQueen and Jacobs and Ford.
At the very top of the business, there was another rivalry between Arnault and François Pinault, who bought Gucci from the Gucci Group. Pinault’s son, François-Henri Pinault, is married to Salma Hayek.
Pinault came from a very different background to Arnault, having left school at 16, starting his career in timber manufacturing, and then making the climb to retail and finally, luxury. Seeing the success of the LVMH group and the potential of Gucci to become a money-making powerhouse, Pinault bought the majority of the business in 1999, keeping Ford as Creative Director. He also bought French fashion house, Yves Saint Laurent, forming a luxury empire to rival Arnault’s. Arnault was nicknamed the ‘snake’ and Pinault the ‘lion’, given their direct and pounce-like style to business. Their rivalry continues to this day, with Arnault taking the top spot as the richest man in France.
Kingdom of Dreams is available to watch on Now TV and Sky.