Former Dior designer John Galliano went on trial Wednesday for allegedly using anti-Semitic slurs in outbursts at a Paris cafe, but he told the court he remembers nothing because of his "triple addiction" — to alcohol and two drugs.
Charges that the outspoken British designer insulted several patrons of a Paris cafe with anti-Semitic remarks shocked the fashion world and cost Galliano his job at the renowned French high-fashion house.
Galliano's appearance at the one-day trial put him in the public eye for the first time in months. In a conservative look for him, Galliano was dressed in black with a polka dot neckerchief, sporting a pencil mustache and long hair.
Galliano is charged with "public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity" and could face up to six months in prison and $32,175 in fines. The verdict is expected at a later date.
Journalists, including fashion writers, packed the wooden benches in the courtroom, which features a high ceiling painted with a woman holding the scales of justice. Television cameras were not allowed in the courtroom but trailed Galliano as he went inside.
The famed designer was escorted to a front-row seat in the wood-paneled, gilded courtroom at the Justice Palace, sitting next to an interpreter as he faced the three judges presiding over his fate.
Asked about the specifics of the evening of Feb. 24, 2011, when he allegedly derided a couple with anti-Semitic insults, Galliano repeatedly said he remembered nothing.
"I have a triple addiction. I'm a recovering alcoholic and a recovering addict," he said when asked why his memory was blank. He said he started drinking in 2007 and became addicted to alcohol, barbiturates and sleeping pills.
After his detention by police in February, Galliano said, he underwent rehabilitation treatment in Arizona for two months and in Switzerland.
"After every creative high, I would crash and the alcohol helped me," he said, adding that his creativity "helped make Dior a billion-dollar business."
Asked why he didn't tell police investigators about his addictions, Galliano responded: "I was in denial. I was still taking those pills and alcohol, and I was in complete denial."
A couple contends that Galliano made anti-Semitic comments to them in the cafe in February. Galliano was taken in by police for questioning, and a sobriety test showed he was drunk at the time. Another woman then came forward with similar claims about another incident in the same cafe in October. Both accusations were being addressed at Wednesday's trial.
Days after the February bar incident, a video was broadcast on the website of the British tabloid The Sun showing an inebriated Galliano insulting a fellow cafe client, slurring: "I love Hitler."
In court, Galliano described increasing work loads at Dior and his signature label, John Galliano, in part as a response to the financial crisis. "They kept me very busy," he said, adding that he had not had time to mourn after the 2007 death of his right hand man and the 2005 death of his father.
His lawyer, Aurelien Hamelle, told The Associated Press this week that the designer's comments were "misplaced and hurtful" but attributed them to Galliano's addition to alcohol and prescription drugs.
Galliano issued a statement at the time saying: "Anti-Semitism and racism have no part in our society. I unreservedly apologize for my behavior in causing any offense." He also said he was "seeking help" for personal failures.
The lawyer said he would be calling witnesses at the cafe during both incidents who say they did not hear any insults by Galliano.
French law prohibits public insults toward others because of their origins, race or religion.
If the court determines that the insults against the victims were heard by other people, it would be a crime and a conviction could lead to a prison term. If such insults were not witnessed, they would only amount to a petty offense and be punishable by a fine.
The February cafe incident and the video reverberated throughout the fashion world because they emerged on the eve of Paris Fashion Week. Dior fired Galliano after 14 years with the company and denounced his comments.
After joining the company in 1996, Galliano made an indelible mark on the storied house, with theatrical, often outrageous, runway shows that were among the most-anticipated displays on the Paris fashion calendar.
The trial is being held on the opening day of another round of Paris fashion shows, the menswear spring-summer 2012 collection.
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