Until now, the designer’s provocations were reserved for the catwalk. Accused of anti-Semitism and dumped by Dior, a profile of fashion's broken enfant terrible.
By Joël Morio
PARIS – For several hours on Monday, fashion designer John Galliano was confronted face-to-face by his accusers, who charge him with having made anti-Semitic statements at a Paris bar last week. According to sources close to the inquiry, no witness has come forward to confirm the version of events presented by the designer, who denies the charges.
But beyond the judicial investigation into alleged racist statements, which is a crime in France, the altercation between a couple and the artistic director of the Christian Dior fashion house took on a surreal feel as the Paris catwalks began to unveil the latest women's ready-to-wear collection for fall/winter 2011. Another complaint, on similar grounds, was registered as British tabloid The Sun published on its website a video in which we hear the designer, visibly drunk, declaring his admiration for Hitler. By late Tuesday, in light of the video, Dior announced it was firing Galliano, who'd been suspended since the initial accusations.
The enfant terrible of couture had carved out a reputation in recent years as a man who loves to party, revels in excess and obsesses over his appearance. Several Galliano confidantes were willing to speak anonymously, expressing surprise by his behavior. "I never would have suspected that he could show any sign of racism or anti-Semitism," confided one. He is unanimously described as nice: "He is respectful toward his assistants, unlike many designers," said one associate.
The price of extravagance
Since the beginning, the Briton wunderkind has shown an appetite for provocation. His fashion shows unfold like a well-conceived screenplay. The small world of fashion often jams into his shows more for the spectacle than the clothes, which are often as extravagant as the production itself.
Galliano was a curious choice to replace aristocrat Hubert de Givenchy upon his retirement. Galliano's first haute couture show in January 1996 was met with tepid applause. "He showed a sense of a bias cut, a taste for fitted jackets and coquettishness in his creations," recalls Marie-Christine Marek. Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH, the parent company of Givenchy, was nevertheless impressed by the media reactions to the show.
The name of Vivienne Westwood, queen of punk couture, had been floated to replace Gianfranco Ferré as the artistic director for Dior's women's collections, which was experiencing something of a period of stagnation. But Mr. Arnault saw in the iconoclastic Briton someone who could boost the brand, one to which he is particularly attached. Not much later, at 36 years old, Galliano was given carte blanche to express his aesthetic style and taste for production. He was able to count on seemingly unlimited financial backing.
Galliano infused life into the couture atelier with dresses that displayed his technical prowess and often pulled from the history of fashion. He admires the wraps of Vionnet, the work of Balenciaga and for Dior, of course, mining the maison's massive archives. His first collection for the Avenue Montaigne fashion house was inspired by the "new look." John Galliano created a dress for Princess Diana for the 50th anniversary of the label. Sales soared.
Yet each collection became a battle. Some declared him a genius, others labeled him the grim reaper of French elegance. Passions peaked in 2000 after the "Homeless' collection was unveiled, featuring paper bags and fragments of clothing held together with string. No matter: Dior made the front page of all the papers.
Five years later, the designer we believed to be wiser came back to provoke. In a cabaret-style production, he put giants and dwarfs on display, the fat and thin, ugly and beautiful, young and old. "I am never provocative just to be provocative. I provoke in order to elicit an emotion or sometimes a debate," Galliano explained in an interview with Le Monde in January 2007. But now, the radiance of Galliano is tarnished. This crisis has brought him unwanted attention. It is no longer about spectacular shows, nor star designers. Many observers believe that the recent escapades of Galliano may irrevocably tarnish his image.
Can Galliano, 50, recover from the debacle in Paris? Last March, he told Le Figaro's Madame magazine: "I do not imagine fashion as destructive. We work on many different projects at one time, it moves very quickly and will never stop." But for now, this particular screenplay is frozen in a public spectacle of self-destruction.
Read the original article in French.