John Galliano, The Calling of The Phoenix

John Galliano © DR

The fashion Industry was in uproar last week after John Galliano was dismissed as Creative Director from Christian Dior following numerous anti-Semitic allegations made against the designer. Galliano has denied all allegations made against him and claimed that he is of partial Jewish ancestry, although this has not been verified. The dismissal on 1st March came immediately following the release of a video clip of the designer, who was unquestionably inebriated, stating, “I love Hitler”.

When I first heard the news and watched the video post that was made public over the World Wide Web, I was unsurprised by his behavior and by the reaction from Dior.

John Galliano with Kirsten Lea at Dior Backstage Haute Couture SS 2009 © DR

I was introduced to the designer after the 2009 Spring-Summer Haute Couture Dior show, in January 2009 and while he was polite, my lasting impressions of him were not favorable. I found him to have a thick and unattractive façade. It has long been known within the fashion industry that Galliano was prone to living a hedonistic lifestyle that resulted in drink and drug related addictions and although it seemed he had been clean for some time, there were rumors circulating that he had relapsed, partly due to the pressure of producing 12 collections a year. He was responsible for six collections for Dior, including the bi-annual Haute Couture, and six collections for his own label. Recent speculation that he had been increasingly less involved with the design process for Dior over the past few years was also starting to emerge.

Christian Dior is the largest holding company within LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) the world’s leading luxury goods conglomerate. Billionaire financier, Bernard Arnault owns 48% of LVMH and in turn, the company, which creates billions of dollars in revenue every year, can easily afford to ensure video clips such as these never see the light of day. Yet, on this occasion, they chose not to.

The fact that Dior fired the designer so promptly, confirmed a personal prediction that the company had been looking for a way to let him go for some time due to repeated displays of inappropriate behavior. The leaked footage, which was not the first of its kind, was the final piece of evidence needed to terminate their chief designer without a pay off that would have been in the region of $25 million.

Christian Dior Haute Couture by John Galliano FW 2010-2011 © Benjamin Kanarek, Harper's BAZAAR China - February 2011

After all, Christian Dior was established as a couture house post World War II and was considered to represent a new beginning. Given this legacy, Galliano’s comments were as much anti-Dior as they were anti-Semitic.

While I accept that there are people in this world who, through lack of education or for their own reasons, are racially intolerant, Galliano’s words were inarguably appalling. However, given the encouragement from the amateur filmmaker, on this occasion, they may well have been for shock value. Galliano’s personality, like his work, is known for being theatrical and provocative. Even accepting this possibility, one can’t help but wonder what might have been behind his hateful comments. In the video, Galliano tells the woman, “You are ugly”. Since the designer does not possess model good looks himself, most viewers have inferred that his remarks were an attempt to cover his deep-rooted depression and insecurity.

Natalie Portman for Miss Dior Chérie © Tim Walker

More than the reason behind the tirade, I have been intrigued by the mixed reactions. Academy Award winning actress, Natalie Portman, who had an endorsement contract with Dior for its fragrance Miss Dior Chérie, made this statement, “I am deeply shocked and disgusted by the video of John Galliano’s comments. I hope at the very least, these terrible comments remind us to reflect upon these prejudices that are the opposite of all that is beautiful.”

Meanwhile, costume designer Patricia Field, defended Galliano’s tirade as being “misunderstood theatre.” While there are mixed opinions within the fashion elite, many insiders have refused to comment, other than to suggest, “It is a shame.” I was interested to pinpoint what precisely people felt was a shame. Is it the fact that he is no longer Creative Director of Dior? Or that he would make such remarks? A general consensus seemed to indicate that editors felt it was a shame this incident had tarred the fashion Industry while Karl Largerfeld stated, “It is a horrible image for fashion.”

Left: Marc Bohan, Artistic Director at Christian Dior (between 1961-1989) © Dominique Issermann, Right: Christian Dior Haute Couture 1987 by Marc Bohan, new version of a dress created for Rita Hayworth for "Gilda" © Benjamin Kanarek, L'Officiel Archives 1987

While it clearly isn’t a positive reflection, I hardly feel that the general public looks upon the directors of the fashion world as saintly. For many outsiders, who have never met a designer in their life, the closest image they have to relate to, are the characters from ‘The Devil Wears Prada.’

Rather more, because of this attention, accounts of Galliano’s achievements have been highlighted in the media. Galliano’s design talents were noted at a young age, while he was still a student at Central Saint Martin’s College in London where he graduated with a first class honors degree. His first collection, inspired by the French Revolution, was bought by London boutique, Browns. Shortly after, he was able to start his own label. A few seasons later, he moved to Paris, where his talents were recognized by Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley. In 1995 he was appointed as the designer for Givenchy, also part of LVMH, and within two years, he replaced Gianfranco Ferre as the chief designer at Christian Dior. Many have cited his great attention to detail as playing a large factor in his success.

Christian Dior Haute Couture by Gianfranco Ferré (between 1989-1995) © DR

Christian Dior Haute Couture by John Galliano FW 97 © Takashi Hatakeyama

Galliano’s suspension came before he was able to complete work on the Dior Autumn/Winter 2011/2012 Collection. Consequently, the Paris Fashion Week show, held last Friday, was preceded by a formal announcement from Dior Chairman, Sidney Toledano, confirming the termination and apologizing on behalf of the company, for Galliano’s comments. Since the designer was not present, the final walk was taken by the Dior atelier, walking out to a standing ovation from the tearful audience.

Over the past few years, Dior has produced some incredible collections, notably in 2008 and 2009. Dresses that are timelessly chic and reminiscent of Dior’s famous New Look. This last collection could not have been more different. It was a tribute production, characteristically John Galliano, with the first model wearing a long cape and tall boots, looking distinctively like the designer himself. Could Galliano have known this would be his last collection for the label?

phoenix bird © D.R.

While I consider that a possibility, I do not share the view that many seem to have taken that this is the end of the road for him professionally. He has reportedly now checked into a rehabilitation facility in Phoenix, which will hopefully give him the opportunity to address his inner demons. This is exactly where he needs to be right now. Many in the fashion Industry may be fair weather friends, but there are equally as many who I am sure will be there to offer him the strength and encouragement that he so obviously needs.

While emotions are running high, many are speaking as if he has retired or worse, as if he has died. I would not be so quick to write him off. Audiences love a comeback and I have every faith that Galliano is capable of quite the encore.

Christian Dior New Look © Willy-Maywald, Christian Dior © UPI

As he faces trial from both Paris Police and from public opinion, reporters are already speculating as to who will take over as chief designer of Dior. One name being repeatedly mentioned is Riccardo Tisci, the current Creative Director at Givenchy. No doubt, this will be an extremely well considered decision. As it stands, LVMH stock has been strong for the past year and there has not been a noticeable decrease in value over the past week. If anything, stock value is more likely to be affected by the current rising price of oil than a changeover of staff. To put it succinctly, Dior was strong before Galliano and will continue to be, long after Galliano.

Christian Dior 60th Anniversary by John Galliano – Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2007/2008 in Versailles, commented by Jeanne Beker from Fashion Television Canada (CTV)

The integral 60th Anniversary Christian Dior – Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2007/2008 Collection by John Galliano in Versailles