To say I am conflicted about this post is an understatement; I’ve written it four times, deleted it four times, tried a few different angles, still wasn’t happy, and then finally reached the to-hell-with-it, just-hit-the-publish-button stage.
So, John Galliano is a genius, an artist. A REAL artist, as I believe Alexander McQueen was also. If you disagree with that, then just navigate away from this page now, because we don’t have much to discuss, really; we’ll just agree to disagree. I heard Galliano speak at the Vogue Festival on Sunday, and felt a combination of anxiety and guilt in the pit of my stomach. His well-known drunken, nasty, anti-Semitic rant in 2011, and his subsequent firing as creative director from both the houses of Dior and Galliano still left a bad taste in my mouth (the taste of unforgiveness and something akin to betrayal)(yes, I’m aware that sounds dramatic). At the time of Galliano’s firing, I posted on my personal Facebook page “How can a person create something this beautiful and say something so ugly?” under a photo of one of my favourite Galliano dresses of all time (above). And that, dear readers, is the centre of my conflict. I love what he creates, but not who he was/is. Should I forgive him, and let him move on? Especially after that Charlie Rose interview, where he explained his addiction issues and breakdown in great detail?
So, there I was on Sunday, sitting in the darkened auditorium at the Royal Geographical Society, along with everyone else in this highly anticipated and sold-out event, feeling anxious. Would he address the racism? Would he gloss over it? Would he ask for forgiveness? How would the audience treat him? Alexandre Shulman, the editor of British Vogue (a vocal supporter of Galliano, and of Jewish lineage herself, I might point out), introduced him and stated that John was here “specifically to talk to us about couture.” In other words, he’s finished with the interviews delving into his past. Don’t expect any tearful hand-wringing and self-flagellation; this chat is all about the clothes, the clothes, and nothing but the clothes. As he walked out on stage, the audience erupted into an elated ROAR of applause and whooping.
John was so quiet and soft-spoken during the interview that I strained to hear him. The video from the event (below) has clearly been tweaked by a sound engineer, because that doesn’t come across. The only mention of his controversial past was when he mentioned he was taking everything “day by day”, that he was “grateful for support”, and how he’d like to put the spotlight back on clothes rather than “the other thing.”
He said many interesting things about the fashion industry and how it has changed in his four year absence… how in his days at Dior and Galliano, runway shows were all about creating a spectacle, rather than today’s very commercialised “moving showroom.” Even the clothes are designed differently now, to be photographed with iPhones from alongside the runway, rather than by the armada of photographers positioned at the end of the runway. He championed couture as being the necessary Eau de Parfum of a design house, which is then diluted into an Eau de Toilette that informs the Ready to Wear lines, and then drifts down to influence the accessories, shoes, handbags, perfume, etc. Without the inspirational art of couture, you don’t get the house’s “DNA” that keeps all of it alive.
As you probably know, Galliano was appointed creative director of Maison Martin Margiela last October by the reclusive Martin himself, and has now shown his first collections for Maison Margiela. Galliano’s experimental couture show called “Artisinal” was very well received by the critics, but it obviously isn’t for the masses. In the video below, you’ll see him outline what he hopes to create at Margiela, and what he wants the brand’s new hallmarks to be. He discusses (at the 10:45 minute mark) the finale and centrepiece of his first show for Margiela, the wedding dress. As the centrepiece, it tells us more about him than anything else he says. The dress is blood red, with a slightly grotesque jewelled mask; not the usual pretty innocent white floral runway concoction. He has adorned it with a heaping glittery mass of antique jewellery that he collected and (I believe) kept him sane post-rehab; poking around in Parisian flea markets, finding beautifully made rare trinkets, and just getting out again was probably very therapeutic. Even more significant, there is a baby figurine (mentioned at 11:45 minute mark in the video, and pictured below) in the top centre of the jewelled mass, the most clear and obvious symbol of starting anew if ever there was one. There are other signals he sent to the fashion world with this show. He chose to show in London, rather than Paris, and was thus struck from the prestigious couture show roster this year (and neatly sidestepped any awkwardness with Dior by being out of Paris). He scheduled his show at the end of menswear week in London, which is interesting since the finale dress (below) is actually a man’s coat, with the lining made into a dress (you’ll see how he does this in the video, to gasps of delight from the audience). He ended the show by having the models return to the runway wearing the white muslin or toile prototype of each dress, giving us a peek at how the painstaking artisanal fashion process works. Each toile was full of marks, corrections, mistakes, post it notes, and even a scribbled Indian takeaway order! This low-key, all-white, post-show, minimalist procession was a deferential nod, maybe even a respectful thank you, to Martin Margiela, whose shows (sometimes all white) were devoid of the flash and theatre that Galliano previously enjoyed. It also showed that each of Galliano’s masterpieces were once flawed works in progress, full of mistakes needing correction, encompassing trial and error… effectively letting his art mirror his life. Unusually, he skipped doing the celebratory bow after the show, staying backstage, again keeping the focus on the clothes rather than on himself.
Now that he is back, I still feel conflicted. Then, coincidentally, an article appeared on my screen right when I was writing this post, which read: “John Galliano announced as (keynote) speaker at Jewish event…. Jonathan Newhouse, chairman and CEO of Conde Nast, is reportedly the man behind the latest move, having introduced Galliano to Rabbi Barry Marcus of the Central synagogue as part of the designer’s rehabilitation.” It really looks as though he is trying to make amends rather than just sweep “the other thing” under the rug. I’ve always been a huge fan of his work, and I hope John Galliano, the man, is evolving alongside his art. I’m somewhere on the road to forgiving him.
Do watch the video and let me know your thoughts.