PARIS — John Galliano emerged smiling from a Paris courthouse on Monday after winning the first round of what promises to be protracted labor litigation between the disgraced designer and his former employers — Christian Dior Couture and his namesake house, John Galliano.
Galliano, who has made a comeback of sorts in recent weeks working in the New York design studio of Oscar de la Renta, wore a skinny-trousered black suit and black shirt to the hearing at the Conseil de prud’hommes, or Labor Relations Court, located in a working-class neighborhood in the northeast of Paris.
He made no statement either inside or outside the court. Galliano spent more than three hours at the hearing before being driven away in a black Citroën C2 car.
His lawyer, Chantal Giraud-van Gaver of Coblence & Associés, claimed victory after the court ruled that it was qualified to hear Galliano’s claims against his dismissal in March 2011 after 15 years as creative director at Dior, following a series of public outbursts during which he uttered racist and anti-Semitic insults.
At his trial on charges of public insult in June 2011, Galliano blamed work-related stress and multiple addictions for his behavior.
Jean Néret of Jeantet Associés, the lawyer for Christian Dior Couture and John Galliano, argued that the case should be heard by a commercial court because of the complicated nature of the contracts linking Galliano with the two firms.
“I am satisfied because Dior’s request has been rejected, and our arguments have been upheld,” Giraud-van Gaver told WWD after the hearing, which drew a handful of photographers but only one print reporter.
Dior has 15 days to contest the ruling. If it opposes the court’s decision, the matter will be referred to the Paris court of appeal in seven or nine months’ time, Giraud-van Gaver said, adding that it could be years before the case is properly heard.
“This jurisdiction is very, very cluttered, and therefore the delays are very, very long. The proof is that we just lost time because instead of hearing our full arguments, the court has to explore the question of its competence. For the time being, we are winning,” she added.
For close to an hour, Galliano stood in front of a wide desk, facing the four members of the tribunal as both lawyers argued their case in French. Standing in front of a bust of Marianne — the national emblem of France — modeled after French actress Catherine Deneuve, the designer sipped occasionally from a small bottle of water.
Néret opened by saying the Labor Relations Court was not qualified to hear the case, since Galliano was linked to Christian Dior Couture and John Galliano by a multitude of contracts, including several consultancy agreements with Galliano’s company, Cheyenne Freedom.
He added that these could not be treated separately from the employment contracts established between Galliano and the two companies, and that he was therefore more an independent contractor than a subordinate.
The court heard that under the terms of permanent contracts negotiated in 2008, Galliano earned a fixed gross annual salary of 1 million euros, or $1.3 million at current exchange, at Christian Dior Couture, plus variable compensation of up to 700,000 euros, or $906,400, and a percentage linked to the firm’s annual sales rise.
Other perks included an annual clothing budget of 30,000 euros, or $38,850, and a grooming budget for personal appearances of 60,000 euros, or $77,700.
In addition, Galliano earned a fixed gross salary of 2 million euros, or $2.6 million, as artistic director of his own brand, and a percentage linked to the decrease in annual losses at the perennially unprofitable house. That contract also stipulated an annual clothing budget of 70,000 euros, or $90,650.
Through Cheyenne Freedom, the designer also earned hefty fees for consulting for Christian Dior Couture and Parfums Christian Dior on matters such as advertising campaigns, catwalk shows and Web sites.
“John Galliano was no ordinary employee. In fact, I would go as far as saying he wasn’t an employee at all,” said Néret. “The complexity of his various contracts is sharply at odds with the image of a poor, defenseless employee which the opposing party is trying to project.”
Giraud-van Gaver said it was inaccurate to portray Galliano as a mere subcontractor, since he was tied to Christian Dior Couture and John Galliano by exclusivity clauses. In addition, Christian Dior Couture owned 91 percent of John Galliano, she noted.
“Mister Galliano is perhaps no ordinary employee, due to the nature of his position and his notoriety, but he is an employee nonetheless,” she argued. “Would an external provider be supplied with a car and a chauffeur? Would he have a coach and a personal assistant? Would the company grant him stock options?”
Speaking after the hearing, Giraud-van Gaver declined to specify the amount of damages Galliano is seeking, saying it depended on the charges the court admits when the full case is finally heard.
“There are several arguments. One is based on nullity, one takes into account his health, one argues that his dismissal was ill-founded, so depending on what the court retains, there are different degrees of compensation involved,” she said. “He was at the company for a long time and he had a big salary, so the sums demanded will necessarily be high.”
Asked if the figure of 6 million euros, or $7.77 million, was accurate, Giraud-van Gaver said: “If you add it all up, then probably yes, because if you are earning more than 3 million euros a year and you add severance pay on top, it quickly adds up.”