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Oscar de la Renta may be paving the way for John Galliano to reenter the fashion world.
This story first appeared in the January 18, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
In a stunning development, de la Renta has invited the disgraced Galliano to spend some time with him in his New York design studio over the next three weeks, WWD has learned.
“John and I have known each other for many years and I am a great admirer of his talent,” de la Renta said. “He has worked long and hard on his recovery and I am happy to give him the opportunity to reimmerse himself in the world of fashion and reacclimate in an environment where he has been so creative.”
De la Renta’s move is certain to ignite controversy and consternation. If successful, it could mark the beginning of one of fashion’s biggest comebacks in memory — one that perhaps hasn’t been seen since Coco Chanel, and thought near impossible two years ago after the designer’s notorious drunken outbursts and anti-Semitic rants in a Paris cafe.
“I am an alcoholic,” Galliano said. “I have been in recovery for the past two years. Several years prior to my sobriety, I descended into the madness of the disease. 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.”
After the Paris cafe incident, in which he said “I love Hitler,” Galliano was fired from his role as Christian Dior’s prize couturier. In court, Galliano blamed work-related stress and multiple addictions for outbursts about which he remembered nothing. He was sentenced to suspended fines totaling 6,000 euros, plus symbolic damages and costs. Retailers also reacted sharply, pulling his products off the shelves, and Galliano was stripped of his Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.
With Galliano’s fall from grace, the fashion world lost one of its most brilliant designers and showmen. While he was much admired for his talent, few believed that he could, in the age of the YouTube video, ever reingratiate himself into either the fashion industry or the larger cultural sphere.
In a phone conversation on Thursday night, de la Renta called Galliano “an immense talent.”
Asked if he was worried about potential backlash, de la Renta said, “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.…I think John is doing all the right things.”
The Anti-Defamation League, a strong critic of Galliano’s anti-Semitic remarks two years ago, welcomed de la Renta’s move.
“We believe that individuals can change their hearts and minds as long as they demonstrate true contrition,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL’s national director. “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. Along his journey to recovery he met with us on numerous occasions. He has accepted full responsibility for his previous remarks and understands that hurtful comments have no place in our society.
“We wish him much success and look forward to working with him again in the near future as a spokesman against anti-Semitism, intolerance and bigotry,” Foxman added.
De la Renta expects Galliano to bring a vibrant, talented presence to his design studio. He wouldn’t speculate on specific projects he may have in mind, only that this is a step in the process of “how to reimmerse himself in the world of fashion.”
While Galliano sought treatment for his addictions, he didn’t fully stay away from the fashion world. He designed Kate Moss’ wedding dress and attended the festivities in England.
Since his dismissal from Dior, there have also been sightings of Galliano all over Paris. According to reports, he was spotted at the Ritz’s L’Espadon restaurant with Anna Wintour in July. It is widely thought the Vogue editor in chief has been lobbying on Galliano’s behalf with major fashion houses. Since his dismissal, there have been several rumors about Galliano’s next move — from seeking financing to start another label to widespread speculation that Tod’s chief Diego Della Valle was in talks with Galliano to either do a Tod’s capsule collection or revamp the Schiaparelli brand. Della Valle firmly dismissed the rumors.
Galliano’s own namesake label is owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and designed by Bill Gaytten.
It was Wintour, an ardent and longtime supporter of Galliano’s, who is believed to have suggested the “in residence” notion. She is a personal friend of de la Renta’s, and played an instrumental role in Galliano’s comeback in the early Nineties.
The three weeks of Galliano’s residency run into fashion week. Asked if he will welcome Galliano’s opinions on his own studio work, de la Renta offered a hearty affirmation. “While I’m working on a collection, I sit with all of my assistants around me,” he said. “I’m not a loner. I listen to everyone. I wish the Virgin Mary would come and sit next to me. I love to be surrounded by people.”
De la Renta’s social clout could also signal a way to slowly ease Galliano back into fashion society, and ultimately allow him to regain his creative muscle.
Galliano himself seemed humbled by the second chance.
“I am grateful to Oscar beyond words for inviting me to spend time with him in the familiar surroundings of a design studio,” Galliano said. “His support and faith in me is humbling.”
But de la Renta squelched any thoughts of a budding succession plan. “Am I retiring? Is John going to replace me?” he posed, unsolicited. “Certainly not. I hope to be around for a long time.”