PARIS — John Galliano made the front page of newspapers worldwide this year — not for his towering creativity, but for drunken outbursts at a Paris café that brought shame to the industry and cost him his job as Christian Dior’s prize couturier.
In one of the most spectacular flameouts in fashion history, Galliano made his last public appearance last June in a Paris court, which ultimately found him guilty of uttering racist and anti-Semitic insults. The acclaimed British designer got off relatively lightly, sentenced to suspended fines totaling 6,000 euros, plus symbolic damages and costs.
This story first appeared in the December 12, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Still, the incident brought to a halt a spectacular career, robbed fashion of one of its greatest showmen and provocateurs, and prompted debate about the cocktail of job pressure and substance abuse that can drive creative talents to the brink.
It also opened up one of the most coveted and high-profile jobs in the fashion world, brought Dior’s strong business trajectory to a delicate juncture and called into question the long-term viability of the John Galliano brand, from which the founder was also ousted.
Testifying in court, Galliano blamed work-related stress and multiple addictions for outbursts about which he remembered nothing. “After every creative high, I would crash and the drink would help me to escape,” he told the court. “I started to have panic attacks and anxiety attacks, and I couldn’t go to work without taking Valium.”
Galliano’s spectacular fall from grace came on the eve of Paris Fashion Week in a rash of rapid-fire developments.
Dior reacted swiftly to the crisis, immediately suspending Galliano’s employment and initiating termination proceedings as a second complaint emerged and an amateur video surfaced online showing an inebriated Galliano uttering, “I love Hitler,” along with a string of noxious insults. Retailers in America and the U.K. also reacted sharply, pulling Galliano products off the shelf.
Yet the Dior and Galliano shows went on as planned, the latter proceeded by a grave speech from Dior chief executive Sidney Toledano. “It has been deeply painful to see the Dior name associated with the disgraceful statements attributed to its designer, however brilliant he may be,” the executive said.
Galliano sought treatment for his addictions, made a surprise appearance over the summer at Kate Moss’s wedding (for which he designed her dress), but otherwise has kept a low profile. According to sources, he has remained incommunicado with his former colleagues, including Bill Gaytten, his longtime collaborator who was named creative director at Galliano and has been leading the design effort at Dior pending the naming of a successor there.
In the wake of his downfall, retailers, editors, headhunters and other experts held out hope Galliano could rebound from the crisis and write himself a new chapter, many being of the school that people have short memories, and that talent can prevail over past transgressions. Others cautioned that the designer’s outbursts were unprecedented, and that the taint of bigotry would be hard to shake.
Meanwhile, Galliano’s show-stopping designs for Dior were displayed prominently at an exhibition at Moscow’s Pushkin Museum and showcased in a sumptuous coffee table book by Patrick Demarchelier. Celebrities with a rebellious streak also continued to wear new and vintage looks from his signature brand, including Lady Gaga, Vanessa Paradis and Jared Leto.