Harry Benson Remembers Photographing the Preeminent James Galanos

James Galanos has been called America’s premiere couturier. A perfectionist, perceptive, and aware, his designs are timeless works of art. And yet, he was an easy man to photograph. It was a fun shoot, an interesting assignment. As elegant as he was, there was an air of nonchalance that immediately made one feel completely at ease. 

I can understand why his famous clients called him Jimmy in a very endearing way. His manner was quite informal in contrast to his elegant demeanor, which was relatively formal by Los Angeles standards—note the two-tone spectator shoes reminiscent of a Fred Astaire film. 

When we made our way into his atelier workroom one day in 1985, Galanos pointed out the mannequins of his famous clients, including Nancy Reagan and Betsy Bloomingdale. He was Mrs. Reagan’s favorite designer—she wore a Galanos to both Reagan Inaugural Balls and for my photograph for the 1985 Vanity Fair cover. That same day, we drove around Beverly Hills looking for locations and ended up on the beach in Santa Monica where, over my objections, he stood in the surf in those elegant black and white spectator shoes for one last photograph.