Last week marked the departure of John Galliano from Dior. Fired over allegations of anti-Semitic remarks he faced the brunt of public criticism that faces any allegation of Jewish hatred in the contemporary world. While these allegations remain to be proven, a video surfaced which showed a clearly inebriated Galliano slurring racial abuse at two women in a bar last October. While I make no attempt to neither reduce the impact of such words nor justify his remarks. I question whether these remarks were born out of a genuine hatred of Jewish people or were the words of a tormented inebriated soul desperate to offend in whatever manner possible.
Galliano had been the design director at Dior since 1997 when he moved from Givenchy prior to Alexander McQueen’s appointment as the house’s new creative director. Galliano the acclaimed enfant terrible of fashion was notorious for his extravagant personal and professional style. Appointed by Bernard Arnault (Chairman of LVMH) he helped re-invigorate Dior during the 1990s, a decade in which British designers revolutionised the Parisian luxury brand holdings of LVHM.
Galliano cemented the British as the rebellious revolutionists of contemporary culture alongside the outrageous McQueen and the shocking Sensation of the YBA. His creative ambition tailored at Central Saint Martin’s produced a fashion genius – who transformed the French fashion house. The Christian Dior Spring 2000 collection exemplifies his desire to shock - an S&M show of high fashion hooker delight. Receiving high acclaim it included the legendary newspaper fashion dress which forms a part of fashion history. His creations continued to generate controversy and headline grabbing horror. Despite such reactions sales at Dior were sky rocketing, propelling Galliano to the forefront of the fashion press’ watchful gaze.
With a continued need to shock and amaze Galliano continued to create works at Christian Dior and his own label John Galliano which broke rules and crossed boundaries. In the past few years, he has faced tougher and tougher times as celebrities including Lady Gaga made sensation and rebellion part of the zeitgeist. Newspaper dresses and hooker inspired fashion had become passé. Under such pressure recent reports suggest he began to engage in heavy drinking as he lost his grip on the wild and wondrous world of Parisian fashion.
Seemingly at the height of his career, he was producing twelve collections a year for brands with a global reach. Clothes which were appreciated by fashion followers and casual observers in equal measure. But behind the walls of his compound in Marais where he resides, Galliano was becoming increasingly volatile and disturbed. The continued pressure seems to have broken down the barrier public face and private turmoil as he began to become abusive and visibly disturbed in popular Parisian haunts. These included La Perle bar, the site of the alleged incident.
While speculation surrounds whether it was the increasingly heavy workload, the challenge to achieve the shock factor or a more personal descent into depression and alcoholism that led to Galliano outburst, there is no questioning that he broke the rules of a civil society. It does however seem unlikely Galliano’s recent outbursts were born through anti-Semitic feeling, why would he choose to live in a heavily Jewish populated area? It seems Galliano’s unsavoury comments are the result of a man in turmoil, lashing out at the world which has provided him with so much.
In an age where public criticism of wrong-doing is commonplace, comments on his behaviour have been made by Natalie Portman and the king of Parisian fashion Lagerfeld himself. It seems fear of media misrepresentation and guilt of association have led Galliano‘s friends to shy away from any public comment. Only Patricia Fields defended rather than justified his comments describing them as ‘theater’ [sic]. They instead encouraged him on to the path of recovery admitting him to a rehab clinic in Arizona.
Once Galliano recovers will he be able to rebuild a career which has ended in such a public and explosive manner? While celebrity careers recover from alcohol and drug related rehab stints as shown by Winehouse to Kate Moss. Can the same occur when a fashion extraordinaire alludes to the gravest moment of contemporary history in an attempt to insult strangers in bar. Will a few short minutes of ugly and unjustifiable comments spell the end of a fashion career? I suspect it will only be a few months before Galliano begins the steep climb back to the top of Parisian fashion.