In France in June, former Dior designer John Galliano went on trial on charges he hurled racial, anti-Semitic insults at several patrons of a Paris cafe. Galliano lost his job over the incident, which led to charges that he violated an act criminalizing “public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity.”
John Galliano, long a top fashion-world provocateur on and off the runway, went too far this time.
The storied French label Christian Dior said it was firing the zany British bad boy after video showing him spouting “I love Hitler” in a drunken rant went viral online – sending shock waves through the start of Paris Fashion Week.
The ouster followed a barrage of accusations and revelations about Galliano’s outbursts that spelled major career trouble for the talented and moneymaking couturier.
The allegations of bigotry had put Dior, which battles crosstown rival Chanel for the title of world’s top fashion house, in the hot seat: Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman, the new advertising face of the Miss Dior Cherie perfume line, who is Jewish, expressed fury over the remarks.
Galliano’s sacking marked the latest bout of scandal to shake the rarified fashion world, including last year’s suicide of Alexander McQueen, another celebrated British designer, and supermodel Kate Moss’ brief stint in the industry wilderness after photos of her snorting cocaine went public in 2005.
“Knowing John’s proclivity for provocation on the runway and in life, to hear such accusations wasn’t surprising,” said Dana Thomas, a fashion guru and author of “Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster,” an expose of the luxury industry.
“But the videos that went viral yesterday were too damning to deny,” she said. “I’m sure (Dior CEO Sidney) Toledano was deeply hurt because he’s Jewish.”
“It’s an insolence that’s unforgivable,” she added.
Fashionistas almost uniformly said Dior would pull through the controversy, and some even suggested the episode gave it a chance to clean its slate after Galliano’s 15-year rein as its mastermind of creation.
The 50-year-old designer’s tailspin began after a couple accused him of hurling anti-Semitic insults at them at La Perle, a trendy eatery in Paris’ Marais district – a hip neighborhood known for its sizable gay and Jewish populations.
As word got out that police were investigating, another woman came forward accusing Galliano of similar anti-Semitic insults in October at the same brasserie.
An apparent smoking gun emerged when the British daily The Sun posted a video on its website showing Galliano, his speech slurred, appearing to taunt two women diners.
At one point, a woman’s voice asks Galliano, “Are you blond, with blue eyes?”
Galliano replied: “No, but I love Hitler, and people like you would be dead today. Your mothers, your forefathers, would be … gassed and … dead.”
Making anti-Semitic remarks can bring up to six months in prison in France, and Galliano appeared in a Paris police station Monday to face the accusations against him.
In what some hailed as an appropriate and quick response, Christian Dior SA said it had launched termination proceedings for Galliano and decried “the particularly odious nature of the behavior and words” in the video.
Galliano’s lawyer did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
News of Galliano’s firing hit on the start of Paris’ nine-day-long ready-to-wear marathon like a tidal wave, with journalists, editors and stylists reading out Dior’s statement on a shuttle bus between shows.
Some murmured that Dior had long been looking to part with Galliano, and this was a way out. Others feared that it might bring his brilliant career to a tragic finish – and possibly overshadow his legacy.
Dior said it still planned to go ahead with its Galliano-designed fall-winter 2011-12 collection as part of Paris fashion week.
Trying to limit the fallout, press officers at the designer’s signature label, John Galliano, spent much of the day checking with journalists, critics, stylists and editors to make sure they would be attending its women’s wear show, scheduled for March 6.
Questions were bound to arise about whether Galliano’s fame and fawning fans had gone to his head, or whether he had succumbed to the pressures of the high-octane, big-payoff industry.
“The situation is extremely sad. Creative people like John – great artists, great writers – often wrestle with the devil in the form of the bottle or drugs,: Joanna Coles, editor-in-chief of American Marie Claire, said. After seeing the video, she said, “You were left thinking, ‘What on earth was he thinking?’”
“The pressure is probably less when you start somewhere than when you’ve been there for some time and have to continue to produce at such a high level,” she said. “We’re very curious to see who replaces John.”
The guessing-game got going in earnest from the moment it became clear Galliano was out.
While some fashion insiders put their money on Alber Elbaz, who has transformed Lanvin from a musty old label into one of Paris’ hottest, others said Givenchy’s Riccardo Tischi was their man.
Since his appointment in 1996, Galliano, who was born in Gibraltar and grew up in London, made an indelible mark on the storied House of Dior. Season after season, he reinterpreted the iconic New Look pieces pioneered by founder Christian Dior, managing to make the designs first fielded after World War II fresh and youthful.
Galliano’s glorious past collections channeled inspiration like ancient Egypt – with models in Nefertiti eye makeup and King Tut beards – as well as Masai tribespeople accessorized with rows of beaded necklaces and crop-brandishing equestrians of the 19th century.
Always theatrical and sometimes outrageous, Galliano’s star-studded runway shows are big-budget blockbusters and among the most-anticipated displays on the Paris calendar.
For years, Galliano has made a spectacle of himself at the end of his shows, prancing out in a rooster-style strut, arms akimbo, his chin up and head cocked back. Backstage he holds court for reporters’ questions and fan emulation while seated on a high-backed chair resembling a throne.
Galliano’s days holding court at Dior are over.
The last straw appeared to be a statement by Portman, who won an Oscar for “Black Swan,” expressing shock and disgust at the video. “As an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way,” she said.
Marcellous Jones, editor-in-chief of thefashioninsider.com magazine, said he was “really surprised that Dior actually had the conviction to fire John Galliano because he makes them a lot of money.”
“I think we were all expecting them to send him to rehab and so they are actually firing him. It’s a bold move,” he said. “It marks a dramatic end to one of the greatest eras in the history of the house of Dior in terms of its international reputation.”
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, praised Dior’s move in a statement saying Galliano’s words had caused pain around the world – notably among Holocaust survivors and their relatives.
“The fact that someone is brilliant in a certain field does not immunize him from facing the consequences of words that are hateful, bigoted or prejudiced,” Foxman said. “Galliano is a public figure with a high profile, but he is apparently also a serial bigot.”
Outside Dior’s flagship store on ritzy Avenue Montaigne in Paris, fashion aficionados expressed surprise and anger.
“I’m shocked because the name of Dior has always been related to John Galliano – he’s creative, he’s a big designer, and everybody is waiting for his fashion show every season,” said Shams, a Kuwaiti singer. “I can’t believe it.”
– From The Associated Press