PARIS — John Galliano on Wednesday blamed work-related stress and multiple addictions for a series of public outbursts during which he is charged with uttering racist and anti-Semitic insults at a Paris cafe, but told a French court that he remembered nothing about the incidents.
Summing up evidence from police depositions at the disgraced designer’s trial on charges of public insult, presiding judge Anne-Marie Sauteraud read out the alleged slurs in heavily accented English. They included “dirty Jewish face,” “f—ing Asian bastard” and “f—ing ugly Jewish b—ch,” among others.
This story first appeared in the June 23, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Galliano, 50, said he was taking a “lethal” mix of alcohol and prescription drugs at the time of the events, which prompted his dismissal from Dior in March after 15 years as creative director and also caused him to lose control of his signature fashion house.
“After every creative high, I would crash and the drink would help me to escape,” he told a packed courtroom during the seven-hour hearing.
“I started to have panic attacks and anxiety attacks, and I couldn’t go to work without taking Valium,” he added. “My body was becoming so used to the pills, so my intake increased to an amount where I can’t actually remember how many I was taking. Sometimes I was taking sleeping pills during the day.”
Wearing a dark blazer and sarouel pants over a waistcoat and polka dot neckerchief, a contrite Galliano arrived in court through a side entrance, sidestepping most photographers.
He told the court he started drinking “in a cyclical way” following the death in 2007 of his beloved assistant, Steven Robinson. “Steven protected me from everything so I could just concentrate on being creative,” Galliano said, his voice cracking and hands trembling. “With his death, I found I had no more protection.”
The designer said his workload intensified at Dior and the Galliano company, where he signed licenses for multiple categories, increasing his design duties.
“I had two children. One was inherited — Dior — and the other was my own, the Galliano company,” he explained. “Dior is a big machine and I didn’t want to lose Galliano. At this point, in order for the house of Galliano to survive, I met with many businessmen and signed many licenses.”
Galliano testified that his hectic timetable did not leave him time to mourn the loss of his friend Robinson, in 2007, and his own father, in 2003.
“When Steven died, his parents and I buried him, then we went to the crematorium, and then I went back to do my fittings,” he said. “The same thing happened with my father’s death. I had to go and bury him and then come back that very night and work on the haute couture. I really didn’t take the time to mourn.”
Galliano sat impassive as he watched the now infamous video in which he can be heard saying in a slurred voice, “I love Hitler.” After viewing the video footage, he said: “I see someone who needs help, who’s very vulnerable. It’s the shadow of John Galliano. I see a man who’s been pushed to the edge.”
The undated video, originally made public by British tabloid newspaper The Sun, was submitted as evidence, although it does not depict the events of Oct. 8, 2010, and Feb. 24, 2011, the two nights Galliano is alleged to have insulted patrons at the trendy Paris cafe La Perle.
The designer has been charged with insulting someone on the basis of their origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity, a crime that carries a penalty of six months in jail and a fine of 22,500 euros, or $32,390 at current exchange, although in practice, jail sentences are very rarely handed down in this type of case.
The court heard how, on Feb. 24, Geraldine Bloch and her friend Philippe Virgitti had been having a drink on the busy terrace of the cafe, located in the Marais district near Galliano’s apartment, when the designer sat down at a neighboring table.
Shortly afterward, he allegedly began to insult the pair, initially asking Bloch to speak more quietly because her voice annoyed him.
The altercation lasted between 30 and 45 minutes, with the pair asking employees of the bar to intervene on several occasions, without success. An irate Virgitti called the police, who arrived shortly afterward and detained Galliano, who was found to have an alcohol reading of 1.01 milligrams of alcohol per liter of exhaled air, four times the legal driving limit in France.
Bloch claimed that Galliano used variations of insults containing the word “Jewish” on around 30 occasions, as well as insulting her about her attire and appearance, and touching her hair.
Asked why she did not leave the bar, she said: “I thought the situation was so unfair, it became almost a matter of principle to me. I was angry. He told me that anyway I was nobody and he was John Galliano.”
Virgitti also gave evidence, saying that Galliano had threatened to kill him, prompting Virgitti to brandish a chair. A witness said Galliano’s driver stepped in at this point and defused the confrontation.
Virgitti, appearing nervous at times, said he realized Galliano was in an altered state. “He had a cigarette holder and he was trying to put his cigarette in the cigarette holder, and he couldn’t do it. He tried three times. I thought to myself, He is not all there,” he recalled.
Virgitti explained that he was frightened by the media storm unleashed by the bar brawl, causing him to withdraw his complaint before subsequently refiling it to protect himself against a countersuit by Galliano on charges of defamation. He even expressed sympathy for the designer.
“I looked him up afterwards. It is clear that in his work, he uses all different cultures. He was born in Gibraltar and liked to take the boat to go to the souks in Morocco. He likes the colors and the smells,” noted Virgitti.
Two witnesses called by Galliano’s lawyer, Aurélien Hamelle, said they heard Galliano insulting Bloch but added he did not make any anti-Semitic remarks.
“I heard absolutely no anti-Semitic comments,” said Marion Bully, a 30-year-old English teacher who was sitting at a table a few feet away on the evening in question. “When I saw in the media that he had lost his job, I found it so unjustified and thought it was my role to come forward so that justice could be done.”
Fatiha Oumeddour, the plaintiff in the second case, which relates to alleged events at the same bar on Oct. 8, filed her complaint in the wake of the scandal.
“It was when I read the press that I decided to come forward,” Oumeddour said a statement read by the presiding judge. Oumeddour was not present in the courtroom.
The court heard that she and her friends, out at the bar for a drink, had initially felt sorry for Galliano, who they mistook for a homeless person.
Asked whether he admitted to uttering racist and anti-Semitic insults, Galliano repeatedly said he did not remember. “I have no recollection of that,” he said. “I have a triple addiction. I’m a recovering alcoholic and a recovering addict.”
Galliano said he had spent two months at a treatment center in Arizona for addiction to alcohol, sleeping pills and Valium, followed by a stay in Switzerland, and was now in a day care program. “I’m still in recovery but I’m feeling much better,” he said, describing himself as currently without an occupation.
Bloch’s lawyer Yves Beddouk highlighted the discrepancy between Galliano’s claim of memory loss and the fact that on March 2, he published a written apology, asking for what, and to whom, Galliano was apologizing if indeed he did not recall the events.
Galliano responded by apologizing to the plaintiffs and to the court, but repeatedly sidestepped the question.
“I can see that this whole affair has caused a lot of upset and sadness. I apologize because that man you see up there is not John Galliano,” he said. “I cannot answer for that man because I don’t know him.”
He noted that his work was proof that he embraced every race, creed, religion and sexuality, noting that he had formed friendships with people as diverse as Maori tribesmen and Shaolin monks.
“I have never held these beliefs. All my life I’ve fought against prejudice and intolerance and discrimination because I have been subjected to it myself,” he said, referring to his homosexuality.
In her closing arguments, public prosecutor Anne de Fontette called for a fine of no less than 10,000 euros, or $14,300 at current exchange. De Fontette has previously been the prosecutor in similar trials involving high-profile personalities, including actress Brigitte Bardot and far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Though Bloch and Oumeddour each demanded symbolic damages of one euro, or $1.42, Virgitti’s lawyer filed for damages of 220,000 euros, or $314,200.
Hamelle called for Galliano to be acquitted. The court will deliver its ruling on Sept. 8.