Fashion 'Bad Boy' Galliano Is Back – Despite Offensive Quips

News of new job at Margiela fashion house for the colorful designer, fired by Dior and ostracized in 2011 for anti-Semitic remarks, sparks media furor.

Shachar Atwan
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In this recent image provided Monday Oct. 6, 2014 by fashion house Maison Martin Margiela, British fashion designer John Galliano poses for a photograph.Credit: AP
Shachar Atwan

Despite the impatience that often typifies it, the fashion industry can be fairly tolerant. It is sometimes willing to absorb and accept, albeit in a roundabout way, what it rejected with loathing just a few months, or a few years, before.

Take, for example, John Galliano, who was the artistic director of the Christian Dior fashion house until February 2011. Less than four years after Dior fired him and the industry ostracized him because of the racist and anti-Semitic statements he made in a Paris bar, Renzo Rosso, the founder and director of Diesel – which controls several high-end brands including Angelo Marani and Martin Margiela – appointed him creative director of the latter firm, based in Belgium.

Still, this roundabout process was not self-evident, and the rather shocking announcement sparked a ripple effect in the media. After all, back in 2011, Galliano went from being an acclaimed genius to a cursed fool overnight. Even though he expressed remorse for his remarks from every possible platform, he was prosecuted and fined; among other things he spent an extended amount of time in a drug-rehabilitation facility. Some people still have a hard time forgiving him.

So what made Rosso announce Galliano’s appointment this month, and does this controversial move have any chance at all of succeeding? One possible answer: Rosso, 59, likes to be provocative. Actually, he enjoys doing that so much that he made the words “Only the brave” his group’s mission statement; to play it even safer, had that slogan tattooed on his ankle.

John Galliano leaves an apartment in NYC with a friend. (Splash News)

Based on the precedents, it seems that Galliano’s chances of coming back for Chapter II in the industry are good. It seems that history forgives everything: The best-known case is that of Coco Chanel, who moved to Switzerland in 1945 after her affair with a Nazi officer was revealed, but returned to Paris and the world of fashion nine years later.

Something similar happened to British designer, painter and photographer Sir Cecil Beaton: In 1938 he was fired from Vogue when anti-Semitic smears were discovered in the margins of a sketch he had done. However, he resumed his professional contact with Vogue about two years later.

Beaton and Chanel were never punished, as Galliano was. But the democratic bent of the media in the current era also ensures that new information will wash everything away quickly, and the past will be buried beneath it. As long as your name is mentioned frequently in the headlines, someone will be found who is willing to swear by it.

Warm embrace

The fashion world is embracing Galliano warmly now, and major figures such as Jonathan Newhouse, chairman and chief executive of the Conde Nast International publishing house, and Averyl Oates, fashion director of the upmarket fashion house Galeries Lafayette, applaud his return.

Actually, this warm embrace did not start now. Powerful figures in the world of fashion such as Anna Wintour, the English editor-in-chief of Vogue, stood by Galliano long before he received his new appointment. In July 2012, when nobody wanted to go near him for fear that he might taint them, Wintour dined privately with him in Paris; later she helped him secure work for a brief time in Oscar de la Renta’s studio in New York.

This expression of confidence by one of the most influential women in the fashion world had enormous symbolic and practical significance, and naturally it got him more design requests – including from supermodel Kate Moss, who chose him to design her wedding gown. Thus, he slowly paved his way back to the heart of the industry.

Models present creations by John Galliano, as part of the Christian Dior Fall-Winter 2010-2011 Haute Couture collection, in Paris, July 5, 2010. (AP)

Immediately after his new post was announced, Wintour published a particularly supportive article about him on Vogue’s website, entitled “Why Fashion Needs Galliano.” Key figures such as Alexandra Shulman, the editor-in-chief of Vogue’s British edition, and Newhouse himself, were quoted praising Galliano’s genius and explaining why he was vital to the future of haute couture.

It is interesting that when the appointment was announced, some expressed reservations due to what they claimed to be purely professional reasons — reasons that had to do with aesthetics, not necessarily with ethics or politics (even though these cannot really be disconnected from one another).

For three fruitful decades Galliano was a colorful virtuosic figure, a supremely imaginative designer who was outstanding at creating dramatic, enchanting spectacles in which he himself played a major role. Some wondered, then, how all that could be reconciled with the intellectual severity identified with the fashion house that Martin Margiela established in 1989, and with the Belgian's minimalist designs and stores that look like clinics?

To be precise, how can a theatrical designer who had fallen in love with his own reflection fill the shoes of the founder of a major fashion house who had never shown his face in public or given a single interview?

Enormous though the differences may be between Galliano and Margiela, these men have one thing in common: the discourse of genius. After Galliano became the artistic director of Dior in 1996, he took it in exciting and unexpected directions while preserving its founder’s legacy.

Still, if there are any doubts as to his ability to manage the Margiela house successfully, there is a reason for them: In the five years leading up to his dismissal, Galliano moved away from the creative brilliance of his early days. This does not mean that the shows he mounted stopped being impressive entertainment — but the garments themselves looked like boring remakes.

Galliano’s debut show at Margiela is planned to take place during Paris Couture week in January. In the meantime, he has chosen to keep a low profile despite the media circus that followed the news of his appointment.

A model wears a creation for Maison Martin Margiela's Spring/Summer 2015 ready-to-wear fashion collection, in Paris, September 26, 2014. (AP)

Maybe he has learned something from the founder of the Margiela fashion house, which could develop into a new strategy for him as creative director. On the other hand, the media uproar is what Rosso hoped for when he chose Galliano for the position. Indeed, in 2009, seven years after Rosso acquired control over his firm, Margiela left and the spendor of the fashion house dimmed.

There is no doubt that the announcement of this rather scandalous appointment, along with the media ferment that it created, are creating an atmosphere of tense anticipation in advance of the brand’s next fashion show, as Rosso hoped it would. In short, Margiela’s next fashion show will likely be the most talked-about event of the season.

The media shockwave also serves Rosso’s personal branding, since Rosso enjoys portraying himself as someone who wants his company to be a lively alternative to the luxury houses that control the upscale fashion market. Galliano’s departure from LVMH, to which the Dior house belongs, ensured that no senior industry figure, not even from the competing group Kering, would dare lay a hand on Rosso. Thus, in choosing to recruit the most hated man in the fashion industry, Rosso may be entrenching his image as a rebel even more deeply.

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