John Galliano

In Designers, Fashion shows on March 4, 2011 at 6:00 pm

I’ve seen many amazing fashion shows and several iconic ones (Alexander McQueen’s dance marathon springs to mind) in my time, but the one I desperately wish I’d been at was John Galliano’s show for spring 1995, at  Pin Up studio in Paris.

It was the one where Linda Evangelista was sitting on the 1950s American car in that yellow dress. The one that sprang forth from its nipped waist in a foam of tulle and feathers that looked almost alive.

I can’t find any pictures of it online, sadly, because that was way back before fashion shows were instantly available to view on line. Come to think of it, it was before all of us were even on line.

But what I have found is this documentary presented by the excellent Tim Blanks. This is Part 2, which features that legendary show – and the previous one at Sao Schlumberger’s house. It’s terrible quality, but so worth watching.

In the current context, it brought a tear to my eye. The incredible atmosphere, Madonna front row, all the supers at their ripe best walking for John for free and, of course…. the clothes. The amazing clothes, the hats, the hair, the make up, the shoes. The Galliano magic.

For anyone wondering what I mean by ‘the current context’: John Galliano has been sacked from the most prestigious job in fashion, as chief designer of Dior.

He is in utter disgrace after two separate allegations of drunken, racist abuse to members of the public outside a Paris bar, were followed by the Sun newspaper releasing a mobile phone videosold to them (for a huge sum by all accounts…)  taken by an observer of yet another such ugly outburst at the same venue.

I’m not going to put the link on here – it’s easy to find on Google. It’s a deeply upsetting thing to watch, with Galliano saying ‘I love Hitler’ and telling the people he was fighting with that they’d all be dead, gassed, their families and forebears too. Horrible stuff from anybody in any context.

So that’s the ghastly context that has had me revisiting Galliano’s finest hours. I desperately wish I’d seen that 1995 show – and, of course, his degree show from St Martins. The art college collection that was so extraordinary, that the owner of London boutique Browns and fashion icon, Joan Burstein, bought all of it and put it in her South Molton Street windows.

He became a fashion legend, literally, over night from that, although it took many long hard years living in his studio (without a fridge, I remember), to reach his current height of wealth, fame and prestige. The incredibly lofty heights he has just fallen from so hard.

Oh, John Galliano. London’s pride. What a tawdry end to such a scintillating career. Such a sordid sordid scene on that nasty bit of video, I felt almost unclean after watching it. Yet, was it almost predictable?

I don’t want to comment here on the whys and ifs of the events – the best coverage of all that is on under the post called ‘Karl’s take’ (doesn’t seem to be possible to put the link in here).

They have interviewed all the right people, including Joan Burstein (who answered with exactly the elegance and discretion I would expect from that wonderful lady). The site also has Galliano’s own official statement about the affair, which churned me up all over again. How terrible to know you have been sole the architect of your own destruction.

And I’ve talked about it so much to my fashion friends this week, my ear is hot from phone calls on the subject and I’m bored with my own opinions on did he really mean it or was he just being provocative and did they provoke him and what will happen next and will his own label close and is it the total end of him as a designer and what is he ON…? Only time will tell.

Right now I’m more interested in pondering whether the personality of someone with Galliano’s level of original creativity simply isn’t compatible with the big corporate machine high fashion has become.

Look what it did to Yves Saint Laurent. And more recently, to Alexander McQueen. Admittedly he came from a difficult childhood and his suicide followed that of his muse Isabella Blow, the death of a favourite aunt and right after he lost his beloved mum.

But it seems more than a coincidence that in the space of a year the two most creative designers in the fashion firmament have done themselves in. One killing his body, the other his career. Perhaps it is now It’s that the point where high fashion, high art and high finance meet is just not a comfortable spot.

It makes me wonder this:

Could Van Gogh have worked for Microsoft? Could Picasso have flourished at Pixar?

  1. Very poignant. You are right it’s a very high price to pay for iconic status . .. . . and those who push them onto that pedestal are not there to catch them when they fall.

  2. Great post, Maggie

  3. Terrific post, Maggie, really thought-provoking.

  4. Maggie this is a brilliant post. We’ve all read a lot about this topic this week, but this is the first piece I’ve read where I have felt sad. Not sad for JG, but sad for the people who have loved his work and been inspired by his career. Thank you for not taking the easy route and for looking at the story from a different angle.


    4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    • I feel sad for him too. He worked soooooo hard, he is talented off the scale and he has thrown it all away and let himself down SO badly. But those comments are simply unforgiveable. Whatever was said to him. x

  5. Thanks Maggie. I agree with Kirsty that this is the first article I have read about this which actually looks at what happened from a different angle. My first reaction to what Galliano said was just absolute disgust, nothing more. Your article made me stop and think. Yes, no doubt artistic brilliance brings other issues. Being able to fall in line with the thinking and MO of big business is no doubt difficult for artistic people. Having thought it through, I have to say I return to disgust. We live in a society where we need to always be compassionate and aware and learn from the tragic mistakes of the past. Being a genius doesn’t excuse you from this. I understand what you’re saying and I thank you for the perspective.
    PS Does Galliano acknowledge that during the Holocaust it’s estimated up to 15,000 gay men were incarcerated and ultimately murdered in concentration camps? Homosexuals were persecuted for years in Germany during Hitler’s reign. I don’t get it.

    • I agree with you 100% about the disgust. No matter what was said to him, or his circumstances, nothing can make those comments justifiable. I just wanted to put in a broader context, not excuse him. If he was some tacky B movie actor it would still be dreadful (like, say, Charlie Sheen….) but for this to come from someone of such heavenly talents just makes it so much worse for me.
      Also agree on the gay Holocaust – I posted exactly that on Twitter right after seeing the video for the first time.
      I think he was saying it to be as bad as he could be, I don’t think he is actually anti-semitic, but NOTHING nothing excuses what he said. And that’s what he has condemned himself to live with.
      There is no good in it at all.


  6. Such an interesting question, Maggie. Can creative genius exist in the business world? I worked in advertising for 20 years and the highest paid, most creative people are often the saddest. They should have been artists, true artists, starving in a garret. Advertising creative departments are teeming with people working on a novel or dreaming of a time when they can quit pumping out ads and paint full-time. But they become trapped by the life that a business offers. They need the clients to make their work come to life and they quickly became dependent on it. It’s hard to leave your job when it also means losing your audience. Fame, awards and adoration are addictive. Advertising, like fashion, are businesses that rely on art. They are not art in themselves. Film-making too. But business means you have to stick to rules and those rules sit badly with creative people. From what I can tell, John Galliano needed Dior as much as they needed him. More, in fact. There are lots of designers but only one Dior and they did the right thing by sacking him. They will find another creative genius. Not the same as Galliano, but that’s exactly the point.

  7. What a silly, silly boy and what a terrible shame for everybody concerned.Thank you for a great story and that amazing video – so much talent from everyone involved in the whole process.

  8. I have been thinking about your last lines all day. Now I shall think about Kate’s commenst as well… thank you both for making me *think*, rather than simply recoil in revulsion.

  9. Interesting Maggie! However I feel it must be said that drunk, stressed or whatever, it is no excuse. Racist comments don’t come from no- where! The thought must be there.

  10. I can’t quite reconcile it. How can the maker of so much beauty also be the holder of so much ugliness?
    I can never look at any of his work in the same way again.

    • I think he is a different person from the one who produced those beautiful shows all those years ago. The pressure has changed him. Tragic and horrible.

  11. I’m devastated, Galliano is one of my favourite designers.

    I’m not excusing his behaviour (and I’m not saying he isn’t racist) but I’m wondering whether he was a heavy drug user like McQueen??

    Heavy drug use wouldn’t help anyone’s state of mind.

  12. Hi Maggie,

    What do you think of the beautiful Andrej Pejic.
    The prettiest girl in the world is a boy.
    Good thing? Bad thing?

    • Verrrry complicated. I’m conflicted about it. It does seem that men have to be better at doing everything women do – even being a woman. On the other hand, he is absolutely beautiful… What do you think?

  13. Hi Maggie,
    I have just read your article and was thrilled to think that there is somebody else out there who thinks like I do! Last year I started Statement Pieces, a company that represents contemporary artisan jewellers and sells their designs through our website and regular events. I am always recommending to women of a certain age to “amplify” themselves. I am continually amazed by the women who look fantastic in a bold design but will opt for “safe” or “low-key”. I have now also started Statement Tours which is a company that will take women (and men) overseas to revel in the splendour of bold beautiful jewellery. Our first tour in October is to the coast of California plus we have a cruise booked for March next year.
    My only other comment is that women of ANY age can be bold and beautiful. My comments about the confidence to adorn oneself with a “grand design” should apply to any age but I also take your point about Golden Foldies.

    Warmest Regards,
    Julie (Ankers)
    Statement Pieces..

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