British fashion designer John Galliano is returning to the industry after being fired as creative director of Christian Dior in 2011 after an anti-Semitic rant. After a period of being an outcast, Galliano is returning to the industry as creative director of Parisian avant garde design house Maison Martin Margiela, where he will design Margiela’s couture line as well as its men’s and women’s ready-to-wear. But is the fashion world ready for his comeback?
Even in an industry known for wild provocateurs, Galliano’s rant at a Paris café in 2011 stood out for its outrageousness and offensiveness. According to court papers, respected art curator Geraldine Bloch alleges that Galliano suddenly began pulling her hair and yelling anti-Semitic slurs, even later threatening her friend, plaintiff Philippe Virgitti, that he was going to kill him. Galliano was fired from his post as creative director at Christian Dior, a position he’d held since 1996. Now, after keeping a low profile and sitting out a stint in rehab for alcohol and drug problems, Galliano is no longer designer non grata.
Galliano had been a shining star in the fashion world, in the pantheon of designers including Jean-Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, and the late Alexander McQueen. Like those peers, Galliano has an irreverent approach to luxury fashion – incorporating street fashion, ethnic design elements and historical references into his designs -- and he helped elevate the fashion runway into performance art.
But Galliano fell very far from grace in February 2011, when patrons at a small bar in the fashionable Parisian neighborhood Le Marais (historically a Jewish neighborhood), saw him dragged out by police after he hurled anti-Semitic slurs at a couple next to him. Soon after his arrest, a video surfaced of yet another earlier anti-Semitic – and seemingly drunken – rant at the same bar, in which he was recorded as saying, “I love Hitler,” telling a patrons near him “People like you would be dead today. Your mothers, your forefathers would be f*cking dead and gassed.”
Making anti-Semitic remarks is illegal in France and can bring up to six months in prison, and although Galliano was found guilty of "public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity,” he didn't serve any time. Instead, he was fined 6,000 euros (about $8,400) and apologized to the plaintiffs. “In theory, the law provides for a prison sentence, but it’s extremely rare,” Jean-Yves Depuex of French law firm Lussan & Associates, told Vogue.
In 2013, Galliano told Vanity Fair that he had been sober for two years, and was rediscovering his creativity. “It’s the worst thing I have said in my life, but I didn’t mean it," he told them of his infamous rant. "I have been trying to find out why that anger was directed at this race."
“Margiela is ready for a new charismatic creative soul,” said Renzo Ross, president of OTB, which controls Margiela. “John Galliano is one of the greatest, undisputed talents of all time – a unique, exceptional couturier for a house that always challenged and innovated the world of fashion. I look forward to his return to create that fashion dream that only he can create, and hope he finds a new home here.”
Margiela’s new creative director is set to debut his first collection in January for Paris couture week.