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James Galanos, Fashion Designer to Nancy Reagan, Dies at 92

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James Galanos at his Rodeo Drive Walk of Style induction ceremony on Oct. 18, 2007

The American couturier put Los Angeles on the fashion map.

James Galanos, who helped put Los Angeles fashion on the map with his couture-like creations for Nancy Reagan, has died. He was 92.

The New York Times reported Monday that the fashion designer died at his West Hollywood home. Rosina Rucci, sister of designer Ralph Rucci, confirmed the news to the Times.

Galanos shot to fame in the 1980s when he dressed Reagan as the first lady. "Nobody could afford to dress completely with Jimmy," Reagan once confessed. "I hang on to what I have."

During his career, Galanos received several awards including the Coty Fashion Award in 1954 and 1956 (he was later inducted into the Coty Hall of Fame in 1959); the Council of Fashion Designers of America Lifetime Achievement Award in 1985; and the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style Award in 2007 and 2008. He also was among the first designers to be honored on the Fashion Walk of Fame along Seventh Avenue in New York.

Galanos was born on Sept. 20, 1924, in Philadelphia, the only child of Greek-born parents. His mother, Helen Gorgoliatos, and father Gregory Galanos, ran a restaurant in southern New Jersey.

After graduating from high school, Galanos moved to New York and intended on enrolling in a school led by Russian stage designer Barbara Karinska. However, when the school failed to open by fall, he enrolled at the Traphagen School of Fashion instead. He dropped out after eight months to pursue a more practical, hands-on experience in the garment industry. Galanos took up an assistant position at the 49th Street emporium of Hattie Carnegie, but later quit to sell his sketches directly on Seventh Avenue.

In 1952, he started the Galanos Originals label in Los Angeles, which got picked up by Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. The following year Galanos started designing for films, creating costumes for Rosalind Russell in Never Wave at a WAC (1953). He also created designs for Judy Garland in General Electric Theater and Judy Garland Musical Special (both in 1956).

Galanos was known for his expertly draped chiffon gowns, tie-dye velvet dresses and rich beading and embellishments. His designs were a favorite among socialites and Hollywood's biggest names. Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich and Betsy Bloomingdale were among his loyal clients. He dressed Grace Kelly for her wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco, as well as Diana Ross for the 1979 Academy Awards.

“I’m only interested in designing for a certain type of woman," Galanos once stated. "Specifically, one that has money."

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