This was fashion once upon a time. Gianfranco Ferré was a man who did not believe in gimmicks, but in steady work. Dior was seen as the height of sartorial elegance, and through Saint Laurent’s creation of the trouser suit in the late 60s and the excess of the 70s and 80s, Dior remained.
It was big news when John Galliano was chosen to replace Ferré in 1996. He had already taken the reins at Givenchy, the first British designer to be in charge of an haute-couture fashion house in Paris. He brought a certain showmanship, the designer as ringmaster and visionary. This was not just about the cut of a dress, but the presentation to the world as a spectacle of opulence. There was a romance to his work, infinitely provocative and larger than life, the man followed. Every season he walked down the runway, he became more and more the pirate matador with the twiddly moustache.
To be head of one of the major fashion houses in the world, let alone a fashion designer, is a job that is incredibly hard on the spirit. Every season must be grander, fresher, better than the last, on a constant hurdle towards the next collection, with an eye on the one after that. Alexander McQueen and L’Wren Scott’s suicides, as well as the many other tragedies that befall designers and those in fashion speak in part to this relentless pressure.
It all builds up and is somehow let out. In a heady world of your own making, where everyone says yes to you because you’re at the helm of Dior, social conventions fall apart.
In 2011, a video of Galliano at a Parisian café, completely drunk and slurring “I love Hitler” at Italian women, surfaced. He was immediately removed from Dior and his own company (Dior having a majority stake in his own John Galliano label), with actress Natalie Portman stepping away from Dior and calling for his ousting, while his friend Kate Moss did her best to support him.
The world decided, however, that insults hurled about that referenced concentration camps, were quite rightly, inexcusable. Galliano faced several fines in court, and a legal battle that continues to this day. He publicly apologised and explained the stress he was under due to his work, the addictions that had led to his shouting out the most awful thing he could think of.
We’ve seen this all before, have we not? Celebrity does something appalling, apologises, goes to jail or rehab and comes out the other side with a story to tell and an album to sell. Kate Moss survived her cocaine habit, Chris Brown still has a career despite beating Rihanna to a pulp, Amy Winehouse’s racist video settled down fairly quickly and hey, even Brandy can run someone over and continue making music.
Not so for John Galliano, who went underground and seems to have stayed underground ever since. Not even the power of fashion chief supreme Anna Wintour can make this a glorious comeback, and instead a temporary residency at De La Renta was arranged last year. His Fall/Winter 13/14 collection was discreet and understated, proving he has talent beyond showmanship. He even stayed backstage for the entire show.
This time around, there are baby steps. Much has been made of the fact he feels genuinely sorry about what he said and has made amends and the right choices around his comeback. While it won’t be a glitterball explosion of debauchery (and all the better for it judging from his latest collection), I can’t wait to see him pick up his pigtails and strut back to the stage.
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