In the Clintonian roman a clef, Primary Colors, campaign strategist Richard Jemmons (so, you know, basically James Carville) takes aside the newly-disillusioned True Believer and gives him the single most important piece of counsel I’ve ever heard about living publicly:
“They love you and then they stop loving you.”
By now you probably know John Galliano, my favorite designer, has been removed from his position at Dior after video surfaced of a clearly inebriated Galliano spouting off some shockingly anti-Semitic remarks at a Parisian bar.
Was he provoked? Did he mean what he said or was it just scandal for scandal’s sake? Should it matter? The video theoretically happened around New Year’s Eve, is it coincidence that the video is surfacing in the wake of Charlie Sheen’s outbursts and the upcoming Paris ready-to-wear shows? What does it say about our ever-growing love for tabloid feeding frenzies?
Of course Dior had to fire him. Of course they did. It doesn’t matter if he really meant it, or whether it’s right to judge people on what they say when they’re off the clock and on the sauce. It doesn’t matter that Galliano for Dior was the most brilliant partnership of the post-couture age. He had to go.
But it still breaks my heart.
Listen, I’m not a real fashion insider by any means but even I knew the open secret that was John Galliano’s increasing struggles with mental illness. Do I think he truly is anti-Semitic? No, I don’t. I think he’s a brilliant, self-destructive artist who is finally cracking under the pressure of unrealistic expectations in an industry that sells unrealistic expectations for cold, hard cash.
I think in some way, he wanted out. It happened to McQueen, too.
Yesterday, Suzy Menkes wrote in the International Herald Tribune:
While the vile statements seen coming from Mr. Galliano’s drunken lips on the Internet video deserved the nearly-universal condemnation they were receiving, there is pathos in the vision of one of the world’s most famous — and best paid — designers alone, clutching a glass in a bar. The pressure from fast fashion and from the instant Internet age to create new things constantly has worn down other famous names. Marc Jacobs, design director of Louis Vuitton, ended a wild streak in rehab. Calvin Klein famously rambled across a sports pitch and admitted to substance abuse. And the late Yves Saint Laurent spent a lifetime fighting his demons.
Above all, the suicide of Alexander McQueen, a year almost to the day before Mr. Galliano’s public disgrace, is a specter that hangs over the fashion industry. The death from cardiac arrest of Mr. Galliano’s closest collaborator, Steven Robinson, in 2007 also sent out an early warning signal.
Most other designers, preparing their collections for Paris Fashion Week, and stunned by Mr. Galliano’s swift fall from grace, asked not to be quoted on the record.
But Victoire de Castellane, Dior’s jewelry designer, summed up the general feeling when she said: “It’s terrible and pathetic at the same time. I never knew that he had such thoughts in him. Or that he so needed help.”
Obviously I don’t agree with what Galliano said, and LVMH was 100% right to fire him, if for no other reason that he did damage to the brand by being in violation of France’s laws explicitly against Anti-Semitism.
I also understand why Natalie Portman –the new face of Dior fragrance Miss Cherie– would refuse to be associated with Dior as long as Galliano was on board. She said “In light of this video, and as an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way.”
I get it, but girlfriend also loves her vintage Chanel and I’m going to go ahead and guess that on the Bigot-meter, Galliano’s stupid drunken rant isn’t anywhere close to Mme Gabrielle’s antics –including but not limited to being the long-term romantic partner of Nazi officer Hans Günther von Dincklage, using his influence to keep her apartments in Paris during Nazi occupation, using newly-passed anti-Semitic laws to try to regain control of her perfume from the Wertheimers and getting involved in a failed Nazi attempt to get the ear of Winston Churchill by using one of Chanel’s former friends who was related to the prime minister. The friend, Vera Bate Lombardi, refused to cooperate and got arrested by the Gestapo for her trouble.
I also wonder if supporting a brand whose creative director has anti-Semitic views is worse than supporting a company that uses sweatshop labor and turns a blind eye to ongoing and systematic human rights violations and inhumane labor laws?
Is it okay to punish someone for what they think but not for what they do?
I don’t know. This thing is tragic from all ends. And of course I’m Episcopalian. I get a lot of garbage for being a person of faith but the last time Anglicans were killed just for being Anglican was 1557 so I can’t know or even pretend to know what it would be like to hear something like with the ears of someone for whom the Holocaust still looms large.
I wish I could come up with something pithy or a meaningful insight but I can’t. I’m sad. Sad for Galliano, sad for Dior, sad for an industry that’s fundametally broken, sad for a society that’s loves a feeding frenzy more than it loves forgiveness and sad that we’ll never see anything like the Fall 2007 Dior Couture show again.