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MILAN — The public prosecutor’s office in Paris has ordered a meeting today between John Galliano and Géraldine Bloch, the woman at whom the designer is alleged to have hurled anti-Semitic and other insults during a drunken altercation at a cafe.
The incident that has gripped the fashion world for the last three days led to Galliano being suspended from his duties at Christian Dior on the eve of Paris Fashion Week and another crucial event, Sunday night’s Academy Awards, where Dior ambassador and best actress nominee Natalie Portman donned a violet Rodarte dress rather than a Galliano creation for her stroll down the red carpet. However, Sharon Stone wore a Dior gown but skipped all press interviews on the red carpet.
A defiant Galliano is fighting back to salvage his reputation and his job, claiming through his lawyer and via witness statements that he never uttered racist or anti-Semitic slurs.
Still the benching of the fashion star brings his glorious career — and Dior’s strong business trajectory — to a delicate juncture, immediately calling into question the fate of the house’s fall fashion show, scheduled for Friday, and Galliano’s signature show on Sunday.
Signaling that powerful global brands today are more important than the star designers behind them, Dior management intends to go ahead with both events — barring any unforeseen flare-up in the saga, a giant tent hasalready been erected in the garden of Paris’ picturesque Rodin Museum for the Dior fashion spectacle. Dior has large design teams capable of producing collections in Galliano’s absence.
Disparate eyewitness accounts of the events last Thursday at shabby-but-trendy La Perle spread like wildfire over the Internet, were splashed over weekend papers in Europe and dominated conversation at the Italian collections, which wind up here today.
Dior reacted swiftly to protect its $1.1 billion fashion franchise. In a brief statement Friday, Dior president and chief executive officer Sidney Toledano stressed the fashion house has a policy of zero tolerance regarding racism and anti-Semitism, and that the suspension of Galliano would remain in force until the results of a police investigation. He declined further comment.
Police sources said Galliano, who was briefly detained after the incident, was inebriated, with an alcohol reading of 1.01 milligrams of alcohol per liter of exhaled air.
Notwithstanding the grave accusations over the alleged racist statements, Dior looked dimly on the fact that its prize couturier created a spectacle of public drunkenness and foul language, sources said. It is understood the designer recently shrugged off suggestions he seek assistance to help kick his drinking habit.
Dior officials are said to be taking a “step-by-step” approach to the fast-evolving crisis — and have yet to rule out rekindling the company’s 15-year affair with Galliano should he be fully exonerated and commit himself anew to the storied house.
“It’s not in their interest to do anything dramatic,” said one source familiar with the situation.
Even the taint of guilt could be enough to unseat the couturier, however, leaving one of the most coveted — and high-pressure — jobs in fashion suddenly up for grabs.
Under French law, the penalty for defamation can be one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros, or $61,884 at current exchange, or either one of those punishments. For insult, the sentence may be six months imprisonment and a fine of 22,500 euros, or $30,942, or one of those penalties.
In France, legislation against racism was adopted in 1972. However, decades before that, in 1939, the Marchandeau law had been put into effect to prohibit racist verbal abuse. “It was born in the climate of anti-Semitic hatred that preceded the war and in the context of anti-Semitic propaganda,” explained Jean-Paul Levy, a lawyer in Paris, noting that racist and anti-Semitic acts in France are on the rise today.
On Friday night, Galliano filed a claim of defamation, injury and menace against Bloch, 35, and her companion at the cafe, Philippe Virgiti, 41. The designer also delivered to police three witness statements that he never made any racist or anti-Semitic slurs.
Galliano’s lawyer, Stéphane Zerbib, noted that the designer is “shocked” that Dior sidelined him pending the outcome of the police investigation.
“He feels it is a decision that has been made without verification of the facts and based on one side of the story and he is very shocked about that,” Zerbib said.
The lawyer added that Galliano’s chauffeur, who was present at the cafe during the incident, is a key witness and has confirmed to police that the designer’s account of events is correct. Zerbib declined to provide the chauffeur’s name.
In an interview on Europe 1 radio on Friday, the couple claimed Galliano’s insults included “dirty Jewish face” and “Asian bastard.” Another account, claimed by Web site Sleek-mag.com to be from an eyewitness, was widely circulated among fashion folk. It portrayed the couple as the instigator of the scuffle, mistaking the eccentrically dressed designer as a vagrant and insulting him, to which Galliano is said to have replied to the woman: “You’re ugly, and your f---ing bag is ugly, too.”
“They said bad things against him. He said bad things against them. And that’s all,” Zerbib told WWD. “Afterwards, the police came and the story’s closed. He never used against anyone anti-Semitic words or racist words, as it is not his way.”
Retailers and editors here for the European collections expressed shock and dismay over the allegations, while urging a fair hearing for the Gilbraltar-born, London-raised designer, who catapulted to international fame with his soaring creativity and flair for theatrics.