John Galliano: Downfall of a Couturier

Christian Dior ousted the star designer on Tuesday amidst mounting allegations he uttered anti-Semitic insults.

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WWDStyle issue 03/02/2011

PARIS — A fashion giant has fallen.

Paris Fashion Week gets under way today under shock. Christian Dior ousted its star couturier, John Galliano, on Tuesday amidst mounting allegations he uttered anti-Semitic insults and an explosive video depicting him saying, “I love Hitler.”

The dismissal marks one of the most dramatic designer flameouts in recent history, and interrupts a spectacular career, robbing fashion of one of its greatest showmen.

It will surely spark debate about whether the 50-year-old British iconoclast will be able to rebound from the taint of anti-Semitism, overcome what appears to be alcohol addiction and rehabilitate his image to resume working in fashion.

It could also set in motion a reshuffling of designers at the highest levels of international fashion, as one of the most coveted and high-profile jobs in Paris is suddenly up for grabs.

It is understood that Dior — reeling from Galliano’s fall from grace within the space of a week — has yet to turn its attention to the delicate issue of succession and, in a sign of continuity, plans to go ahead with its fall fashion show slated for Friday in a tent erected in the gardens of the Musée Rodin here.

Sources said it has yet to be decided if Sunday’s show for the John Galliano line will go ahead. Meanwhile, Galliano’s Italian licensing partners are said to be reeling in the wake of the crisis and uncertainty about that brand’s future.

The final straw for Galliano — the target of two complaints to Paris police of racist and anti-Semitic remarks — was an amateur video depicting the designer, plainly inebriated, hurling expletives and insults, including references to people being “gassed.”

Natalie Portman, a face for Christian Dior Parfums, issued a statement Tuesday morning saying she was “shocked and disgusted” by the amateur video, obtained by British tabloid The Sun and circulated around the world. Its genesis and circumstances remain a mystery.

“As an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way,” Portman said. “I hope, at the very least, these terrible comments remind us to reflect and act upon combating these still-existing prejudices that are the opposite of all that is beautiful.” She made no mention of Dior.

Hours later, Dior said it had commenced termination procedures in the wake of the “deeply offensive statements and conduct by John Galliano” portrayed in the video.

“We unequivocally condemn the statements made by John Galliano, which are in total contradiction to the long-standing core values of Christian Dior,” Sidney Toledano, chairman and chief executive officer of Christian Dior Couture, said. He declined to comment further.

According to sources, Galliano is expected to issue a statement today.

Photos of a pale and shell-shocked Galliano arriving at a police station in the Marais to meet his accusers were splashed all over newspapers around the world on Tuesday, often sharing the front page with stories about mounting pressure on Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi to step down.

Galliano spent Monday afternoon at the station as part of an ongoing police investigation into claims he uttered anti-Semitic and racist remarks in separate altercations at trendy Paris cafe La Perle, last Thursday night and last October.

The designer claims he never uttered any racist or anti-Semitic slurs, furnished witness statements to back his case and subsequently filed a claim of defamation, insult and menace against Géraldine Bloch, 35, and her companion at the cafe, Philippe Virgiti, 41. The couple claimed Galliano’s insults included “dirty Jewish face” and “Asian bastard.”

Under French law, the penalty for defamation can be one year in prison, a fine of 45,000 euros, or $61,884 at current exchange, or both. For insult, the sentence may be six months imprisonment and a fine of 22,500 euros, or $30,942, or one of those penalties.

A spokeswoman from the prosecutor’s office on Tuesday confirmed the police inquiry into the Galliano case has not yet been wrapped up.

“I think there are still some people to hear,” she continued, adding she believes the legal process will be rather quick, without giving a specific timeline.

The ouster of a designer who has left an indelible mark on Dior — and on the history of fashion — left designers, editors and retailers stunned and saddened.

Many were puzzled by the incongruity of Galliano’s warmhearted, polite disposition and the vile pronouncements captured on camera. Others deemed his behavior and words scandalous and damaging to the industry.

In a posting on the Vogue Italia Web site, editor in chief Franca Sozzani wrote: “I am against and I condemn any kind of racism or any behavior that shows disrespect toward any religion.”

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