Monday, 28 February 2011
To be blunt, I find it hard to see how John Galliano’s position at Dior can still be tenable after a video emerged today of the designer making grossly offensive anti-Semitic comments on an occasion separate to that of the similar, recent allegations. Alcohol is not an extenuating circumstance for the appalling things which Galliano said. Aside from the sheer insensitivity and harmfulness of using one of the most awful episodes of history, which is still a very open wound for millions of people around the world, to form insults, the whole thing is a PR and marketing catastrophe for Dior, the brand for which Galliano is the figurehead. High fashion labels micro-manage their images to nth degree with everything, from how the product is positioned on the store shelves to which celebrities can be seen wearing the clothes, overseen with microscopic precision. The brand being associated with anti-Semitic slurs could hardly be any more damaging to the refined image which Dior, in common with other high fashion houses, so carefully cultivates and maintains. Brand image, after all, is crucial for persuading increasingly fickle consumers to spend high fashion prices on clothing and accessories. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but walking past the Dior shop near work today I was struck by how it was totally deserted, with the staff inside looking decidedly uncomfortable. Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and the other usual suspects nearby, were buzzing in comparison.
That is not, however, to say that I don’t feel a real sadness for Galliano. His behaviour is not to be excused, but I find it hard to believe that he is truly a malicious anti-Semite. The impression which I get most strongly is that Galliano is a desperate figure, in need of help and support more than anything else. Drinking alone in Parisian bars before getting involved in vile slanging matches seems more like a cry for help than some sort of perverted political statement. As Alexander McQueen so tragically demonstrated, creative geniuses are frequently troubled souls, prone to depression and self-destruction. Furthermore, the sheer pressure of working as a designer at that level in the fashion industry should never be underestimated. Galliano’s eccentric appearance and bizarre comments during interviews serve only to reinforce the impression that despite his stunning collections, legions of fans and glitzy celebrity friends, a troubled man lurks beneath it all. The fashion industry, with its glamour, high aspirations and embrace of fantasy and escapism has a knack of attracting, before all too often destroying, the mentally unstable. The mental health issues which affect a not insubstantial number of gay men, often the product of difficult childhoods and lacking support networks, is another – rarely discussed – topic in itself. The fact that Galliano himself, openly homosexual, should be caught on camera declaring his love for Hitler who was, to put it mildly, no fan of gays either outlines the almost surreal nature of the whole incident.
The disconnect between the sheer beauty of Galliano’s designs, both for his own label and for the house of Dior, and the foulness of the insults which he hurled is almost impossible to grasp. The shock and disbelief of fashion editors, and others who have known and supported Galliano for years, is palpable on Twitter and on blogs. Galliano will be judged harshly in the public eye because of his eccentric look and manner, and he will no doubt be dismissed (rightly, I think) from Dior, but one can only hope that he will have time in private to reflect and, above all, to recuperate.