DINING ON ASHES — The End of John Galliano

8 Apr

One month after the astonishing events surrounding John Galliano and his dismissal as creative director at the House of Dior, the world has understandably moved on to far more urgent threats and catastrophes.  Yet within the fashion industry, the Galliano debacle remains a mystery.

Galliano’s publicly recorded pronouncements of his ‘love’ of Hitler and his disdain for Jews affected the fashion community in a way that rarely happens.   We’re used to cattiness, drama and tantrums of diva-esque proportions – it’s an unfortunate side note of the industry.   But Galliano’s actions ruffled feathers in a way that’s difficult to do in a business such as this.

Much of it is because the fashion industry is known for being a ‘crazy quilt’ of personalities and preferences – a place where the only important religion is the unswerving devotion to the creative art of pattern and cloth, where rarity and uniqueness are feted rather than faulted.  For anyone in this industry to persecute others because of their religious beliefs in this day and age is, frankly, unheard of.

Personally, the entire Galliano disaster is as puzzling as it is upsetting.  I cannot help but wonder what was really behind all of this — there is something that doesn’t quite make sense about an intelligent, learned and openly gay man professing affection for Adolf Hitler.

Is Mr. Galliano somehow blithely unaware that more than 100,000 gay men were pursued and arrested as criminals under the Nazi regime, and that estimates of their deaths in concentration camps range in numbers up to 15,000?  Does he not know that the atrocities of the Holocaust are where the origins of the pink triangle as a symbol of unity come from?  (While Jews were forced to wear yellow Stars of David, homosexuals had to wear pink triangles.)

I think not – so then why these damning actions?  Self-hatred?  Internalized homophobia?  Or more?

This is not a business for the weak-willed or the faint of heart.  Clashing egos, creative differences, difficult personalities and the ever-present demands of banks and backers make it an industry unlike any other.

As a designer constant reinvention is a necessity.  This is an environment where one poorly reviewed collection can send your sales and reputation into a tailspin and potentially put your career on the line.  The pressure placed upon you to balance creativity and profitability season after season is unbelievable – your backers expect revenue that will fill their pockets, your buyers expect wearable goods that will sell in stores while critics and editors expect sensational creations that will sell magazines.  These multi-faceted demands to remain at the top are simply overwhelming.

Even Women’s Wear Daily, a publication hardly known for its soft side, speculated in a recent article whether or not the demands placed on designers were simply becoming too much (this on the heels of the announcement that Balmain’s recently appointed head designer, Christophe Decarnin, was unable to attend his own runway show due to hospitalization allegedly from depression and exhaustion.)

Although Galliano is no stranger to controversy or drama, and rumors of his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction have abounded for years his racist statements, made very publicly and on more than one occasion, seemed unusually out of character – even to those who know him and his histrionics.  Was this then nothing more than a sad and desperate attempt, consciously or not, to divorce himself from the demands of producing not only for Dior’s ready-to-wear and couture collections but his own eponymous line?

Whether the motive was public shock or personal sabotage, his behavior was inexcusable and has engendered no sympathy, even after a public statement of apology following his arrest for disorderly conduct.

My sympathies lie instead with the employees of the House of Dior as well as the buyers who rely on the power of both the Dior and Galliano labels to ensure successful and profitable seasons.  There has been tremendous speculation as to who will replace Galliano at Dior’s helm, and also whether his own ready-to-wear collection will remain in production.

Before the Fall/Winter Dior show, the company’s CEO, Sidney Toledano, addressed the audience with an eloquent statement about the values and principles that the house stood for and, while not once mentioning Galliano’s name,

The Finale at Dior

assured listeners that said values would continue to be upheld by “the heart of the House of Dior, which beats unseen… made up of its teams and studios, of its seamstresses and craftsmen.”

The showing of Galliano’s own collection a few days later was, unlike his usual runway extravaganza, without fanfare – and without its designer.  After an unusually short runway presentation (26 looks as opposed to the usual 40 or 50) viewed by a fairly large audience (behaving on the same impulse that won’t let one look away from a horrific car accident) it was reported that, yes, the Galliano showroom would be open and, apparently, booking appointments.

This begs a difficult question for any retailer:  How forgiving is the public, your clientele?  Will they wear a garment with a name on it that proudly supports anti-Semitism?  And equally concerning, simply by carrying that name in your store, are you subjecting your business to the possibility that clients

Dior by Galliano Fall-Winter 2011

will refuse to patronize you?

People do not let go of issues like this in short time.  One only need look back at Chanel’s known dalliances with Nazi officers.  These affairs enabled her to keep her Paris atelier open while many of her contemporaries were forced to leave Paris.  After the war ended, however, she was labeled a collaboratrice and was effectively ostracized from fashion’s hierarchy for nearly a decade.  (Many historians have overlooked these facts, citing the curvaceous silhouette of Dior’s New Look as the factor that relegated Chanel to the ‘back row’ of the fashion audience throughout the 1950s.  Though this certainly may have affected her previous clients’ devotion, it is hardly the entire reason.)

Several months from now, when the fall collections being to arrive, Galliano’s name will certainly John Galliano   Fall-Winter 2011still bear the stains of his actions.  Any buyer with a semblance of reason would not wish to risk their bank account or their reputation  for the sake of a handful of garments, however beautiful.

As for Mr. Galliano, if his intentions were to absolve himself of the mantle of responsibility he held he could not have accomplished the task more thoroughly.  It is a very sad thing when an individual capable of such genius so thoroughly and intentionally ostracizes himself from the fashion community – no company will hire him in the near future and even his most devout followers will be ill at ease wearing his designs.

Food for thought, Mr. Galliano, as you dine on the ashes of a once-great career.

Thank you for reading, all, and be well…

Christopher Forte

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One Response to “DINING ON ASHES — The End of John Galliano”

  1. Sarah K.W. April 8, 2011 at 11:45 PM #

    My vote is on self-sabotage coupled with a healthy dose of burnt-outness. It is a tragedy as his clothes are devastatingly beautiful.

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