“I love Hitler. People like you would be dead today. Your mothers, your forefathers, would be fucking gassed and fucking dead.” Fashion designer John Galliano spewed these despicable, beyond hateful and offensive words, in February 2011 at his favorite watering hole, Café La Perle in Paris’ chic Marais district. Galliano—seemingly drunk or high, or both —was caught on video by Philippe Virgitti, a receptionist, and his girlfriend Geraldine Bloch, a museum curator. The couple also said Galliano called them: “dirty whore,” “ugly,” “fucking Asian bastard” and “dirty Jew face.” The shocking footage of Galliano’s anti-Semitic rant was released for the world to watch in horror. Then 47-year-old Fatiha Oummedour, a French citizen, came forward claiming that Galliano hurled similar insults at her for no apparent reason. Galliano was arrested and charged with “public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity,” which is against French law. He was fined 6,000 Euros and found guilty of making racist and anti-Semitic remarks.
The flamboyant designer of Christian Dior and his own namesake label was quickly canned by Dior on March 1, 2011. Sidney Toledano, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Christian Dior Couture, said: “We unequivocally condemn the statements made by John Galliano which are in total contradiction to the long-standing core values of Christian Dior.” Natalie Portman, the face of Dior at the time and once seen posing with Galliano, was even more ardent in her dismissal of the fallen fashion designer: “I am deeply shocked and disgusted by the video of John Galliano’s comments. In light of this video, and as an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way.” Just a few weeks later, Portman won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Black Swan. And as the ultimate fashion slap in the face wore Rodarte, not Dior, to pick up her statue. Once the darling of the fashion world, Galliano became an outcast—the Mel Gibson of the runway. And as the internet was overloaded with anti-Galliano comments, he issued a press release with the obligatory, carefully crafted apology for his actions and then vanished—evidently to rehab.
But not everyone was satisfied with Galliano’s plea for forgiveness or his light sentence. Moshe Kantor, the President of the European Jewish Congress said the “slap on the wrist” sent the wrong message to those who use hate speech. “It is outrageous,” Kantor denounced. “This sentence demonstrates that there appears to be a culture of impunity in the entertainment world.”
Yet despite his vanishing act, one year on, there is still a man named John Galliano who is one of the living masters of his craft. One year on, there is still a fashion label that bears his name and is putting forth collections. And one year on, Dior has yet to find a suitable replacement for him at the helm of the house.
There has been tremendous observation of the movements of all the actors in this sordid play. Suzy Menkes, the Head Fashion Editor for the International Herald Tribune, said in a recent New York Times article, in trying to fill the position at Dior, it has been rumored, “Seven designers already approached have either been turned down or backed away.” And there is still not a replacement in sight. The biggest talk was that Marc Jacobs would fill the position, but that turned out to be just a rumor. At press time, Belgian designer Raf Simons, who won raves for his collections at Jil Sander, was said to be a shoe-in as Galliano’s replacement at the house of Dior.
As for Mr. Galliano, he is keeping himself very much undetectable; so much so, he seems to have disappeared altogether. It is against the law in France to incite racial hatred and it has been said that Galliano has been staying in the South of France since the criminal case against him had been settled. Another source in Paris alleges he has occasionally spotted Galliano out and about drinking. As for his next moves, a source close to the designer’s partner, Alexis Roche, has said they are seriously considering moving to Los Angeles, a city known for its eternal forgiveness—yet also a town with a large and powerful Jewish population. Just look at Mel Gibson’s career, or rather lack of a career, as an example of what happens to celebrities who make public pronouncements that insult a whole lot of people.
Recently, Mr. Roche, also known as “Lexy,” created a Twitter account and was tweeting with other fashion industry professionals (such as makeup artist Pat McGrath and stylist Edward Enninful) while out at various fancy events in Paris. This sudden communication suggests the Galliano camp may be opening up a bit and that movement from the designer may be on the horizon. And just last month, Galliano surfaced publicly in London where he attended the 50th birthday party of his old pal DJ Jeremy Healy. A “spy” told the New York Post that Galliano seemed “sober” but that his appearance “caused quite a flutter in the room.”
INTO THE LOOKING GLASS
There has, however, been a positive outcome from this situation in that a deep introspection of the fashion industry unto itself has occurred. It is not a secret that fashion is a stressful business. The great Yves Saint Laurent famously battled demons throughout his career, and Christopher Decarnin, Balmain’s former designer, parted ways with the house due to overwhelming pressure. And tragically, editor Isabella Blow and designer Alexander McQueen both took their lives seemingly due to the high-stakes world in which they worked. After this latest incident with Mr. Galliano, everything in the way that fashion functions, from the rate at which designers are expected to produce in order to meet higher and higher profit goals, to the practice of placing singular value on a figurehead designer, has come under scrutiny.
Increasing production demands on designers has become a large part of this broader conversation. Anja Vang Kragh, a designer who worked closely with Galliano both at Dior and his eponymous label, describes her time working for him as some of the best years of her life. Though in regard to the workload, she says, “To me it was quite strange that when a collection didn’t do well at Dior, the big bosses would come and say, ‘Well now we do a cruise collection or kid’s collection or menswear,’ in order to make up for it. What surprised me was that they just didn’t ask for better clothes.” Vang Kragh went on to say, “I think now they are doing 16 collections, and no matter how genius you are, no one can work this much all the time.”
Especially for Mr. Galliano, who by all accounts looked over every one of those 16 lines personally as well as his own line. “He would never let things go, there was not one thing that was not supervised by him,” says Elisa Palomino, a designer based in London. Palomino was one of the first people to join the team at Galliano as his studio manager and remains in Galliano’s close stable of consorts. “He was so right and when you would see it you would know,” she says. “He has had a wonderful team over the years, but the talent is his.”
Recently, LVMH has made a move showing heightened consideration of their designers. The brand Céline, another strong label in the French conglomerate’s stable, recently cancelled its Paris runway show and instead opted for a presentation because its designer, Phoebe Philo, was eight months pregnant.
And maybe Galliano isn’t really all that valuable? Not having a designer for Dior as the “official face,” as fashion writer Vanessa Friedman calls it, has not hurt sales a bit. Dior’s retail sales were up 27 percent in the first three quarters of 2011, and general turnover went up 21 percent compared to the same period in 2010. Ms. Friedman adds, “Maybe they don’t need a high-cost, high-maintenance, high-salary star at the helm?”
“You take a company like Nike, whose numbers are so tremendous, that no one can touch them. And what does Nike do? They put a team of innovators, as opposed to an individual behind their products, which is better strategically,” says David Gensler, the CEO and founder of the Keystone Design Union which consults for brands like Nike on corporate strategy. “Don’t put all the attention on the quarterback, focus on the team as a whole. The fashion industry often makes the mistake of putting all the attention on the figure head, instead of saying, ‘here is the team.’”
There are fashion brands that have utilized this method successfully, most famously, Maison Martin Margiela. One of the more experimental and revered houses in fashion, the Margiela brand is built on anonymity. The designer and founder, Martin Margiela, has never so much as been photographed, bar one picture, which ran in The New York Times in 2008, taking complete attention away from himself as a figurehead. As a result, public focus is kept on the clothes and the collaborative effort it takes towards their creation. Clearly there are other successful models than “designer as figurehead,” so perhaps it can even work for Dior. Is John Galliano needed to lead a label, much less, wanted?
WHO IS BILL GAYTTEN?
There is, however, a mystery man in this scenario by the name of Bill Gaytten, who is now the Acting Creative Director of both Dior and Galliano. While he has garnered a lot of attention in this past year as a result of the position he has acquired, very little is known about him aside from the few collections he has put forth and that he has spent decades working alongside Galliano. Fashion industry professionals seem to know very little of him, while some who have worked closely with him have refused to discuss him, and even those who were willing to discuss Gaytten, had few things of significance to say. The critics panned his first collection, which was for Dior couture, beginning with Cathy Horyn from The New York Times. “He’s a sweetheart, but not a designer,” she said, and called some elements of the collection “dumb” and added, “That immaculate Dior polish was not evident.”
In the same review, Ms. Horyn questioned why a studio assistant has been given such a heavy position in taking over both Dior and Galliano, and Anja Vang Kragh, also expressed confusion at the choice. Vang Kragh said he wasn’t present at the studios on a daily basis. “It was like he was almost working there freelance, up until 2003,” Vang Kragh says. “As a person I really like Bill, he has always been a warm, sweet guy, it’s just really weird what’s going on here, that his [Galliano’s] close friend and assistant is the new John Galliano.” Since his first couture show, Mr. Gaytten has shown another season of collections and has made moves as Creative Director of Galliano. For the most recent Dior collections, he seems to be erring on the side of caution, relying on perfect technical creations, sans Galliano’s trademark drama and over-the-top showmanship. As a result, critics have been more positive in their reviews, calling his latest couture offering, “technically persuasive,” “pure nostalgia” and “a class act by any standards,” even in spite of it lacking emotion.
He also recently released the first new ad campaign for Galliano under his creative direction, which employed a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas theme, a choice that raises the question of prudence. Utilizing this film as a reference naturally raises eyebrows, as it is a tale laden with drug and alcohol abuse, two of the things that were a part of Mr. Galliano’s downfall.
The hand that LVMH may be playing with Mr. Gaytten is also curious. In a recent post-show interview after Dior’s spring couture show, he said to Grazia magazine, “I am super organized, fully programmed. I do what I am told.” It is unclear to what he refers when talking about what he is being told to do, though one interpretation could be that it is in reference to direction coming from corporate entities above him at LVMH.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
LVMH is still a majority stakeholder in the Galliano brand, and exactly how much is difficult to discern as French laws differ from U.S. laws in terms of what is, and isn’t, available for public knowledge. Though, if it is structured anything like Marc Jacobs, of which LVMH owns 96 percent on last account, then Mr. Galliano may have a miniscule say, at best, at what goes on there. Though LVMH chief, Bernard Arnault, has very clearly stated, “He will not be working for LVMH.” So perhaps getting back the Galliano label is simply out the question at this point. Is this the end of Galliano’s fashion career?
That said, the Galliano label’s sales have increased in the Middle East, Moscow and Asia, and strategically, this can mean big business for the brand in the long run, and a platform from which to rebuild. It also exhibits consumer faith in the brand, in spite of what has happened. Fern Mallis, Fashion Consultant and the former head of the CFDA and IMG, seems to think forgiveness is in order, telling SCENE, “We live in a world of forgiveness, while what he said was awful, people deserve a second chance.” This idea of forgiveness is a surprising, yet almost unanimous sentiment from all those in the fashion world who were willing to speak on the topic. There are even whispers that Anna Wintour is trying to “help” get Galliano back on his feet.
“We love to build celebrities up knock them down, but we also love a comeback,” says Mickey Boardman, Editorial Director of Paper magazine. “But first he has to get to a point where people would really believe he is sorry. Then they would accept him again.”
But some think Galliano needs to do much more than just convince people he regrets the horrendous things he said. Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre said, “It is up to him to make amends to the community he demeaned and to the public at large.” They feel his earlier apology was not sufficient. “It is important to emphasize that a cleverly worded press release is not sufficient. If John Galliano is truly sorry for what he did, only his future deeds will tell us how sincere he is.”
And what Galliano’s future holds—whether on the catwalk or in Hollywood—remains unclear.