As I pick up yet another issue of Vogue, filled with uncontrollable excitement at the thought of feasting my eyes on rich editorials, I feel a sudden rush of sadness as I look closer. It’s the September fashion issue and naturally calls for a day to be dedicated to reading it, but it’s also the issue which brings to light one of this year’s most catastrophic events: the demise of fashion legend, John Galliano.
Although demise may be a strong word for someone so deeply ingrained in the fabric of twenty-first century fashion, it felt as such for those in the industry closest to him.
Charlotte Sinclair’s The Turbulent Life of John Galliano (Vogue UK Sept issue) explores the eccentric designer’s meteoric rise and catastrophic fall from grace, and aims to examine the underlying reasons why, on that fateful night in a cafe in the French capital, did the man so recognised for his composure and dedication to fashion, drunkenly pounce on an innocent couple with racial and anti-Semitic slurs. Why did he declare his affection for the human root of racial evil Hitler?
Although in great admiration of Galliano’s work and what he has done at both Dior and his (ex) namesake label, I was disappointed by the justifications given for his xenophobic behaviour. Sinclair’s lengthy feature voices the opinions on Galliano’s downfall from a range of sources, including past assistants; Galliano’s muse and long-term friend, Amanda Harlech, and the Dior house amongst others.
Some of the views expressed were striking. Listing factors out of Galliano’s control: an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and prescription drugs; his hedonistic clubbing lifestyle and the untimely death of his father and Steven Robinson – his ‘”soul brother” and right hand man for 17 years, similar reasons Galliano addressed in his defence in court. But what really shocked was the conclusion from writer Camilla Morton and loyal friend Tricia Simonon implying Dior’s crippling schedule of “32 collections a year” and the pressure placed upon Galliano to drive the dusty Dior House to financial success were ultimately to blame for his racist outburst.
Simonon goes on to imply Galliano’s drink and prescription drugs problem anaesthetised him from all sense of wrongdoing on the night in question, yet Sinclair reports in her feature of Galliano’s drunken outburst being so common, “his chauffeur was trained to call a lawyer.”
But loyal friends were quick to highlight Galliano’s good nature. Naomi Campbell – the model so angry at an innocent Cadbury’s advert she labelled racist – strongly believes Galliano doesn’t have a “racist fibre in his body”, and Fran Cutler spoke of working at Dior as Galliano’s “dream life…after 14 years at Dior, he’d have another 14.” More recently, designer Richard Nicoll voiced his concern over the pressures faced by designers to excel, and attributed the sad loss of Alexander McQueen and Galliano to this in an interview with Time Out Hong Kong.
But I still can’t bring myself to justify Galliano’s culturally loose actions. The man said to be a victim of the “ivory tower syndrome” – having divorced himself from reality – and one whose appetite for excess in both his personal and professional life was a “point of pride” appears more threatening than prodigiously talented. This is not to belittle the unmatched fashion he has created, but the fact remains that Galliano holds such awfully derogatory views of the Jewish community.
One cannot cite too many sleepless nights in his atelier or his privileged, albeit pressured position in the industry – thanks to immense backing from the top men at Dior – as reasons for his actions. His eccentricities were better suited to the catwalk than in a display of cultural mud-slinging. “Artists are forgiven faster than mere mortals, fashion is lenient on its ruling class”, says Sinclair, but it seems this time, the people of this culturally interwoven industry won’t forget so easily.