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

But she also lashed out at the people who filmed a plainly inebriated Galliano, whose speech was slurred. “If you are truly fighting with someone, you don’t have time to pick up a mobile phone, turn on the video giggling and mockingly film what he is saying,” Sozzani wrote. “I’m just as disgusted by these people who saw what state John was in and took advantage of the situation by trading on his name and notoriety. While I condemn John’s words, I think they were said in a certain moment when he wasn’t lucid. I am frightened by how quick these young people were to try to gain notoriety or money while destroying the image of a genius.”

Joan Burstein, owner and founder of Browns in London, and a longtime supporter who bought Galliano’s entire graduate collection in 1984, said, “I am deeply saddened by the fact that John Galliano has been dismissed. I hope that I have the opportunity to see him face-to-face, as I have no comment to make until I am told the truth by him.”

“All I can say is that he was and is a brilliant designer, and I hope that fashion will have some memories,” said Maria Luisa Poumaillou, fashion director at Printemps. “Everyone is sad, and the only thing I’m certain of is that he did an amazing thing for Dior and he gave so much pleasure. I will miss him a lot.”

Alexandra Shulman, editor in chief, British Vogue, said, “I think Galliano made a terrible mistake and such offensive behavior could not be ignored. It is all the same true that he has a huge talent and has contributed enormously to the resurrection of the house of Dior.”

Patricia Field sent an e-mail blast to 500 friends, blogs and media on Tuesday in support of Galliano. In a phone interview, she described the designer’s controversial video as “farce” and said she was bewildered that people in the fashion community have not recognized it as such.

“People in fashion, all they do is go and see John Galliano theater every season. That’s what he gives them. To me, this was the same,” she said. “But people in fashion don’t recognize the farce in it. All of a sudden they don’t know him. But it’s OK when it’s Mel Brooks’ ‘The Producers’ singing ‘Springtime for Hitler.’ ” Field said Galliano was “acting out a character.”

Franco Penè, chief executive officer of Gibò Co. SpA, which produces the John Galliano men’s and women’s collection, urged that justice should be allowed to take its course. However, he added, “Neither I nor anyone in the company has ever seen anti-Semitic behavior from Galliano, nor was there any inkling ever of anti-Semitism in his attitude.”

Karl Lagerfeld, meanwhile, came out swinging.

“I’m furious, if you want to know. I’m furious that it could happen, because the question is no longer even whether he really said it. The image has gone around the world. It’s a horrible image for fashion, because they think that every designer and everything in fashion is like this,” Lagerfeld said. “This is what makes me crazy in that story.

“The thing is, we are a business world where, especially today, with the Internet, one has to be more careful than ever, especially if you are a publicly known person. You cannot go in the street and be drunk — there are things you cannot do,” he continued. “I’m furious with him because of the harm he did to LVMH and [chairman and ceo] Bernard Arnault, who is a friend, and who supported him more than he supported any other designer in his group, because Dior is his favorite label. It’s as if he had his child hurt.”

A club kid from South London via Gibraltar, Galliano hit the international fashion radar right out of the starting blocks upon graduation from Central Saint Martins. With his theatrical flair and romantic inspirations of epic proportions, Galliano immediately became one of the darlings of editors and retailers, famous for his bias-cut gowns, innovative tailoring and a cheeky, streetwise edge.

Commercial success didn’t come as easily. Based in London early in his career, Galliano struggled throughout the Eighties and early Nineties, with a succession of backers. He had to close his business three times after they withdrew their financing because of slow sales growth.

Still, his technical virtuosity and knack for making fashion headlines attracted the attention of Arnault, who tapped him in 1995 to succeed Hubert de Givenchy upon his retirement, moving the British maverick to Dior a year later. “Mr. Arnault is a true visionary to put someone like myself in my position,” Galliano told WWD in an interview in 2007. “Many houses have copied that since.”

At Dior, he succeeded a string of legendary design talents: Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan and Gianfranco Ferré.

Galliano quickly woke up the brand with his bravado, a broad spectrum of fashion expression and a soaring imagination.

He has characterized his shows around 1999 and 2000 as “rupture” moments for Dior, including the so-called “Matrix” couture collection that announced a tough-chic moment, and a hip-hop flavored, Lauryn Hill-inspired show that arrived at the onset of logo mania. He has also sent trailer park babes, bruised boxers and rockabilly types down Dior’s ready-to-wear runway.

His signature collections have been no less spectacular, from Bollywood beauties dusted in colored powders to a charming, oddball parade of childlike cardboard floats and clothes deliberately too big for the models.

During his early years at Dior, Galliano had a broad creative purview that extended to advertising and the Dior Parfums beauty division. In a 1997 collaboration with photographer Nick Knight, he had Brazilian bombshell Gisele Bündchen in a sweaty, sexy entanglement with model Rhea Durham, prompting cries of lesbian chic.

“That was really, you could say, the beginning of full-throttle forward,” Galliano recalled in the 2007 interview. A few seasons later, Bündchen was sweating again in a Dior campaign, this time also smeared with grease, fixing an old Cadillac.

Since 2007’s suit-driven “back-to-basics” collection, Galliano has churned out more ladylike and commercial rtw, and ratcheted up references to Dior icons, like the bar jacket, equestrian looks, English men’s wear fabrics and the color gray.

In tandem, Dior diminished the profile of Galliano’s fashion campaigns, funneling investments into more “institutional” communication, notably a multiyear print and cinema campaign backing the perennial Lady Dior bag featuring Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard.

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