PARIS — John Galliano is to stand trial in a French criminal court on a charge of public insult after three people filed complaints alleging the designer hurled racist and anti-Semitic remarks at them, according to the prosecutor’s office here.
Galliano’s case is expected to be heard during the second quarter.
This story first appeared in the March 3, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The penalty in France for insult against people due to their origin, belonging or not belonging to a religion, race or ethnicity is six months imprisonment and a fine of 22,500 euros, or $31,207 at current exchange, according to the prosecutor.
News of the trial came only hours after Galliano broke his silence over the scandal that cost him his job as Christian Dior’s couturier. In it, he apologized “unreservedly” and vowed to fight to clear his name and reputation in the face of accusations of anti-Semitic and racist outbursts. At the same time, he continued to deny the charges against him.
“Anti-Semitism and racism have no part in our society. I unreservedly apologize for my behavior in causing any offence,” Galliano said in a statement released by the London law firm Harbottle & Lewis.
Dior initially suspended Galliano from his duties on Friday and then ousted him on Tuesday amidst the mounting allegations and an explosive video depicting the maverick designer saying in a slurred voice, “I love Hitler.” Dior condemned the statements made in the video and commenced termination procedures.
Galliano, a London-born wunderkind who was the creative architect of Dior’s rejuvenation, has been its couturier since 1996.
The house still intends to go ahead with its fashion show, scheduled for Friday. It is understood the company is unlikely to address the issue of a successor to Galliano for some time.
As reported, Galliano was summoned by the Paris public prosecutor on Monday to talk with Géraldine Bloch and her companion, Philippe Virgiti, who filed charges last Thursday following an incident that night at La Perle cafe, where the designer is alleged to have hurled anti-Semitic, racial and other insults at them.
Police sources said Galliano, who was briefly detained after the incident, was inebriated, with an alcohol reading of 1.01 milligrams per liter of exhaled air.
Galliano claimed he never uttered any racist or anti-Semitic slurs, furnished witness statements to back his case and subsequently filed a claim of defamation, insult and menace against Bloch and Virgiti.
A second, separate complaint was filed to Paris police by a woman, who has yet to be identified, on Saturday. It concerns an incident that reportedly also took place at La Perle in October, during which Galliano allegedly made anti-Semitic remarks.
On Wednesday, Galliano stressed he fully cooperated with the police investigation, and remained silent until now on the advice of his French lawyer.
“However, given the continuing delays at the French prosecutor’s office, I should make myself clear,” he said. “I was subjected to verbal harassment and an unprovoked assault when an individual tried to hit me with a chair, having taken violent exception to my look and my clothing. For these reasons, I have commenced proceedings for defamation and the threats made against me. However, I fully accept that the accusations made against me have greatly shocked and upset people.”
In the statement, issued only a few hours before news broke he would stand trial, Galliano made no mention of the video, but said he takes responsibility for the “circumstances in which I found myself and for allowing myself to be seen to be behaving in the worst possible light. I only have myself to blame, and I know that I must face up to my own failures and that I must work hard to gain people’s understanding and compassion. To start this process, I am seeking help, and all I can hope for in time is to address the personal failure which led to these circumstances and try and earn people’s forgiveness.”
The specifics of his quest for treatment for what is believed to be alcohol addiction could not immediately be confirmed.
“I have fought my entire life against prejudice, intolerance and discrimination, having been subjected to it myself,” Galliano said. “In all my work, my inspiration has been to unite people of every race, creed, religion and sexuality by celebrating their cultural and ethnic diversity through fashion. That remains my guiding light.”
Harbottle & Lewis is the go-to law firm for media and entertainment figures in crisis — or in need of protection. Its client roster includes Kate Moss, Kate Middleton, David Beckham, the England Cricket Team, Working Title and Philip Morris.
Gerrard Tyrrell, Galliano’s lawyer and a senior partner at the firm, has a track record of robustly defending his clients.
In 2009, Beckham won libel damages from the Express Group over tabloid claims that he had been flirting with a topless model. Meanwhile, Kate Middleton and Prince William have repeatedly consulted Tyrrell after being hounded or chased by paparazzi.
In 2005, Tyrrell won substantial libel damages for Moss after the Sunday Mirror falsely reported that she had lapsed into a cocaine coma in Spain in 2001 after a charity fashion show.
“He really has to cure himself. That is the only good outcome of this story,” said one source in Galliano’s inner circle. “He has to cure himself, take care of himself and protect himself.”
Max Clifford, a public relations and crisis management expert in London, said Galliano’s statement was wanting.
“The statement leaves me with questions: Galliano said he was attacked, but what does this have to do with the Jewish community? Were his attackers Jewish? He needs to make clear why he responded to the attack in that way,” Clifford said. “And I still think it’s very, very important for him to have one or two well-known Jewish friends come forward and say that they know he is not a violent or racist person.”
Separately on Wednesday, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton distributed a statement from the Anti-Defamation League praising Dior for its swift action against Galliano. The league, founded in 1913, fights anti-Semitism through a range of programs and services.
Abraham H. Foxman, the league’s national director and the son of Holocaust survivors, said Dior’s “swift and courageous action sends a clear message that this kind of anti-Semitic rhetoric is unacceptable both in the fashion world and in larger society.”
He added, “The fact that someone is brilliant in a certain field does not immunize him from facing the consequences of words that are hateful, bigoted or prejudiced. Galliano is a public figure with a high profile, but he is apparently also a serial bigot.”
On a day when the CAC 40 slipped 0.8 percent, shares in Christian Dior SA slipped 0.9 percent to close at 103.75 euros, or $144 at current exchange rates.
“For Dior, this will pass, and the fact that LVMH acted quickly and severely — I think more quickly and severely than Galliano could have imagined — is important for the brand,” said Guy Salter, an industry investor and the deputy chairman of Walpole, the association of British luxury goods. “For Galliano, a recovery is trickier because I’m not sure if people do forget these things. Think about Tiger Woods — everyone is always going to remember what happened.”
Market sources said Dior is under no time pressure to name a successor to Galliano as it has large design teams coordinated by Bill Gaytten, who has worked with the designer since the Eighties. It must also sort out the future of the John Galliano business, in which the designer has a minority stake, and presumably negotiate a separation agreement.
At press time Wednesday, the John Galliano show was said to be on standby, the first indication it might not go ahead given the question marks hanging over the business that bears his name.
Dior has declined all comment on a succession plan, which has been ineffectual in quelling the rumor mill as Paris Fashion Week enters full swing. Contenders are said to include Riccardo Tisci, Givenchy’s rising star; Hedi Slimane, and Antwerp-based Haider Ackermann.