For many in the public eye, a drunken outburst like that made by the fashion designer John Galliano in December 2010 would have been a terminal blow to reputation and career. “I love Hitler,” he told two Jewish Italian women sitting at a neighbouring table in a Paris bar. “People like you would be dead today. Your mothers, your forefathers would be fucking dead, fucking gassed.”
The comments, which were filmed and circulated online, led to abrupt disgrace. He was fired as creative director of Christian Dior and would go on to be prosecuted over the outburst and other racist comments; France stripped him of the Légion D’Honneur it awarded him in 2009.
But there are crimes against fashion and crimes against the fashion world, and when it comes to the latter, it seems, no misdemeanour is absolutely unforgiveable. On Friday it emerged that the 52-year-old Briton is to make a tentative return to the fashion establishment, undertaking a temporary residency at the studio of Oscar de la Renta in New York.
“I am grateful to Oscar beyond words for inviting me to spend time with him in the fam iliar surroundings of a design studio,” the shamed designer said of the short-term placement. “His support and faith in me is humbling.’
De la Renta added: “John and I have known each other for many years and I am a great admirer of his talent. 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.”
The arrangement was brokered by Anna Wintour, the powerful editor of US Vogue, it was reported, who is a friend of both designers and is said to have first suggested the residency.
Galliano, who was born in Gibraltar and grew up in south London, has not been without supporters during his exile – Kate Moss, a longtime friend, pointedly chose him to design her wedding dress. The influential US stylist Patricia Field said his remarks were no more than “theatre”, and sent out emails headed “In praise of John Galliano”. Sir Philip Green was even reported to be trying to coax him into designing a collection for TopShop.
Galliano himself dismissed those rumours, saying his “only focus for the foreseeable future was concentrating on his rehab”. The designer had blamed his behaviour on a catastrophic alcohol addiction, saying his racist insults were “not views I hold or believe in. In the video I see someone who needs help”.
In comments to Women’s Wear Daily, Galliano said: “I am an alcoholic. 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.”
While Galliano’s contrition will inevitably provoke some cynicism, the US-based Anti-Defamation League, which campaigns against antisemitism, told Vogue, which first reported the story, that it was content the designer had learned from his disgrace. “We believe that individuals can change their hearts and minds as long as they demonstrate true contrition,” said Abraham 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 antisemitism 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.”
As for the fashion establishment, Alexandra Shulman, the editor of British Vogue said most people would be “entirely enthusiastic” about Galliano’s return. “Certainly the people I have spoken to are delighted to hear that he has been given a new opportunity,” she said. “John Galliano has a very particular take on fashion that is nostalgic and luxurious and very beautiful. I think it is the beauty of his work that is a huge part of his appeal. It is often not the most commercial sensibility but it is extremely individual and desirable and I imagine will merge well with Oscar’s aesthetic.”
It would be “helpful” for the designer to make a small-scale return with the support of someone of the stature of Oscar de la Renta, she said, but with the placement initially due to last only three weeks, Galliano’s rehabilitation as a force in fashion has some way to go yet.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010