Last week, John Galliano – former head of fashion house Dior – staged his comeback directing for Maison Margiela, after leaving the fashion world in disgrace following convictions for his widely publicised anti-Semitic rant and bizarre attack on a Parisian couple. Apparently now rehabilitated, the outlandish designer has been welcomed back into the fold with open arms, but not everyone is so readily forgiving. Whilst in principle everybody deserves a second chance, Galliano’s rant was incredibly venomous and indicative of some pretty ingrained views, views which surely do not just disappear.
Galliano hasn’t exactly been remorseful until now either. Just over two years ago, he was photographed wearing an outfit which curiously resembled the religious dress of Hasidic Jews. While Galliano is famed for his flamboyance, he could hardly have been unaware of the reaction this would cause. The outfit was at best cultural appropriation; at worst a brazenly offensive move designed to garner even more attention for the fallen designer. In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Galliano cites alcohol and substance abuse as the cause of his racist outburst, but as many people have been quick to point out, not all alcoholics resort to racism. Furthermore, rather than outright accept full responsibility for his actions, Galliano chooses to use his personal issues as an excuse. Ultimately, this suggests his remorse is more for his stunted career than the couple he attacked and everyone he offended.
It is interesting in a sense that a second chance is being granted to Galliano, given that the fashion industry is so brutally cut-throat and relies on a constant turnover of new designers and trends. Galliano has, after all, been absent for four years. However, in another sense it is not shocking at all, given this is the same industry which consciously chooses to turn a blind eye to eating disorders and child labour – what’s a racial slur in comparison? Evidently a trifling matter, as an increasing number of high profile fashionistas have come out in support of Galliano. Stefano Pilati, former creative director for Yves Saint Laurent, began lamenting the ‘tragedy’ that had befallen Galliano and the house of Dior only a few months after his conviction. Worryingly, Pilati is not alone; his view is merely symptomatic of an industry which actively tolerates racism and exploitation in order to make a profit.
Galliano clearly has some deep personal issues which he claims to have resolved and the distinct lack of spectacle at the Margiela show is presumably meant to prove this. However, considering Galliano’s penchant for dressing up, it is unclear if this apologetic persona is simply just another of his roles. Obviously it would be unfair to have him exiled forever, but a bit more remorse and a lot more hard work is necessary before he can truly be forgiven. However, without wishing to exempt Galliano from his actions, some blame lies within the industry itself. The unwavering support for a convicted racist simply demonstrates the dangerous attitudes so prevalent in one of the world’s biggest industries. As with the recent Ched Evans controversy, the issue here extends far beyond one person’s career. Despite priding itself on being at the forefront of design, it appears that when it comes to attitudes about racism, the fashion industry is laughably out of touch.