By Tiffany Tivasuradej
When talking about one of the greatest 21st century designers the world has witnessed, there is no doubt that the name John Galliano will spring to mind. The Gibraltarian, London-raised designer is well known for his outrageously brilliant and whimsical designs. Drawing inspiration from historical figures (such as Napolean and Josephine) and films such as A Streetcar Named Desire, Galliano was strongly regarded as “one of the most amazing tailors and designers of his time” as described by Brian Balthazar. Despite his brilliance, Galliano’s alcoholic character resulted in a tragic incident in Paris, 2011, which eventually led to his dismissal as the creative director of Christian Dior and subsequent absence from the fashion spotlight. Nearly two years later, Galliano has been recently reported to have signed a deal with Oscar De la Renta, which will allow him to reenter the fashion industry for a short, three-week placement. The news has travelled fast, and thus the question now is: does John Galliano deserve a second chance?
Let’s look back in time for a brief moment. Galliano moved to England with his parents at the age of 6, where he initially had issues in fitting in. He was teased by his schoolmates for wearing elaborate outfits his mother, a flamenco teacher, dressed him in. It was perhaps due to his mother’s actions that Galliano’s creativity, uniqueness and confidence for his style helped him shine as a fashion genius during and after his education at Central Saint Martins. Graduating with a first-class honors degree in fashion design, Galliano soon after established his own label. Despite becoming bankrupt and financially unstable for many occasions, the support he gained from the Portuguese fashion patron, Saõ Schlumberger, allowed him to create a unique masterpiece resulting in his appointment as the head designer of Givenchy in 1995, making him the first British designer to ever lead a French couture house. In 1997, Galliano became the head designer of Dior and thereafter produced some of the most notable and memorable collections the world has ever witnessed.
With the success of his mind-blowingly rich and inspiring designs, the entire fashion industry and perhaps the world were utterly shocked when Galliano was fined for making anti-Semitic remarks in a Paris Bar on 8th September, 2011. Famous actress Natalie Portman was among those that denounced Galliano’s disgusting and shocking actions. The fashion industry responded immediately to Galliano’s incident by dismissing him from Dior and additionally stripping him of his “Chevalier of the Legion of Honor” (the highest accolade available for Fashion designers in France) he received in 2010. Having been absent for two years, Galliano has been receiving continuous treatment for his longstanding problem with alcohol and waiting to make his reappearance on the fashion stage.
The world has recently witnessed a frenzy of excited comments and remarks from experts and designers who have been eagerly anticipating the day when Galliano would return. “He has been missed from the fashion scene these two years and we can’t wait to see the collection with Oscar de la Renta”, Dolce and Gabanna comment. Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Abraham Foxman, adds that “we believe that individuals can change their hearts and minds as long as they demonstrate true condition. Mr. Galliano has worked arduously in changing his world view and dedicated a significant amount of time to researching, reading and learning about the evils of anti-Semitism and bigotry… he has accepted full responsibility for his previous remarks and understands that hurtful comments have no place in our society”. De la Renta himself, in response to an interview with WWD, also commented that, “I think John is doing all the right things. Everyone in life deserves a second chance, especially someone as talented as John. I think that life is about forgiving and helping people”.
Galliano himself has claimed to be extremely “grateful” for de la Renta’s offer. He also states quite frankly that “I said and did things which hurt others, especially members of the Jewish community. I have expressed my sorrow privately and publicly for the pain which I caused, and I continue to do so. I remain committed to making amends to those I have hurt.”
British Vogue editor, Alexandra Shulman, acknowledges and understands the enthusiasm people have towards Galliano’s arranged placement. “John Galliano has a very particular take on fashion that is nostalgic and luxurious and very beautiful. I think it is the beauty of his work that is a huge part of his appeal. It is often not the most commercial sensibility, but it is extremely individual and desirable, and I imagine will merge well with Oscar’s aesthetic.” She feels however that this arranged placement is only a “helpful” offer that de la Renta has made. For Galliano to reenter the fashion spotlight permanently, she suggests, will take much longer.
Many would undoubtedly argue that a simple two years in exile is clearly not enough to forgive Galliano of his shocking actions. The Guardian claims that “it’s not about the time, it’s the depth of feeling”. Reflecting on Lance Armstrong’s appearance, The Guardian suggests that “a man can go on TV and apologize for hours while sitting opposite Oprah Winfrey – but if he doesn’t take full responsibility for his actions and instead says he is merely “flawed”, it’s hard to take his apology too seriously. Galliano has issued several statements expressing his sorrow and self-disgust. To freeze him out of his industry for ever when he has expressed so much contrition would be unjust, especially when criticizing him for his own intolerant remarks.”
It’s a complicated issue overall. It would be such a waste and tragic to lose another one of fashion’s geniuses and clear pioneer of fashion’s future. At the same time, those that have been affected by Galliano’s motives have undoubtedly the right to suspect the effectiveness of his rehabilitation and treatments, and to refuse his future apologies if any. An end or ceasefire in the conflict between these two extremes may perhaps be unlikely any time soon. For now, if the world is unable or unwilling to welcome Galliano back permanently, then perhaps a compromise can be made by accepting his small reentry for the moment.
Photograph: Ms Penny Dreadful