“I had become what is known as a blackout drinker.” Although that familiar line sounds like an excerpt from my own memoir, controversial designer John Galliano declared it in response to his now infamous racist rant. The drunken tirade took place during 2011 at a small Parisian bar and was captured in a cell phone video that went viral, shocking the entire fashion world. Galliano’s high profile position as creative director at Dior (worth a modest five million annually) was immediately suspended and the ashamed designer found himself shunned by all. Realization set in that Galliano was struggling with severe alcoholism and drug dependency. He promptly checked himself into an Arizona rehab and has diligently maintained sobriety since. The unimaginable part is why such a highly esteemed individual in the public eye, and one of rich heritage himself, could be capable of such harsh words that would obviously offend so many. But maybe therein lies the precise answer.
Juan Carlos Antonio Galliano-Guillen was born in Gibraltar, Spain to a Gibraltarian father who worked as a plumber and a Spanish mother that taught flamenco dancing. The family relocated to South London when John was only six, and the move proved to be a difficult one for the young man. He was ridiculed not only for being an immigrant, but also for his effeminate nature and questionable sexuality. Not until John attended Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design would his creative spirit finally be set free and his individuality encouraged. From there, it wasn’t long before the young designer took the fashion world by storm. The sordid eighties London club scene served as a backdrop for John who developed a notorious reputation, not only for his dramatic collections but also his excessive lifestyle. He’s even been quoted to say “I wouldn’t be John Galliano if I didn’t party.” Unfortunately, partying didn’t pay the bills and the designer found himself penniless in London. After a few favors from friends in high places, including Vogue Editor Anna Wintour, he moved to Paris and really established his name as a designer. 1995 saw Galliano brought in to vamp up the dated label Givenchy and within the next two years he’d acquire any designer’s dream job as creative director for Dior. He would hold this highly coveted position at the fashion house until his own drunken slip of the tongue cost him everything.
“I was playing God.” Watching Galliano’s runway shows are like peering into a fantasyland. With obvious influences he pays homage to the classics while offering bizarre and innovative twists to evoke one’s wildest dreams. His shows have been praised for their cultural diversity and for shattering the norm. One collection, titled ‘Everything is Beautiful’ found all ages, body types and races sharing the stage, from dwarves to towering transvestites.
Fashion is the ultimate form of creativity through individuality and self-expression. It’s an imaginative world that encourages the envelope to be pushed as far as possible. Nothing is off limits… for the rich and famous. With only a handful of women worldwide capable of affording haute couture designs, and the aesthetically-blessed who are rewarded lucratively for traipsing down the stage in such outlandish attire, all while jet-setting around the globe and living a life of excess, this level of fashion is completely inaccessible for most. So it makes total sense that a controversial designer, in his long standing position for Dior, would perhaps eventually come to feel a sense of entitlement and invincibility, disconnecting from the real world around him.
Like an actor researching extensively for his next role, Galliano becomes totally engrossed in the characters that serve as his inspiration. At the time his slurs surfaced, the designer had been enamored with Rudolf Nureyev, a Soviet born ballet dancer that also was accused of and scrutinized for being Anti-Semitic. Still, it remains hard to believe a man of mixed background himself, who was tormented from an early age for his own sexuality, who had many colleagues and rubbed elbows with fashion’s elite, could spew something so hateful and tasteless, perhaps solely for the sheer controversy of it all. Well, the shameful outburst received more than raised eyebrows. Galliano claims it was the lethal cocktail of benzos and booze he was fueled on to subdue the immense amount of stress brought on by curating several collections yearly for both Dior and his own namesake label. Obviously. Many can attribute the night they forgot to remember when twisted off a xanny bar and couple of cocktails. Yet, these answers fail to justify his inexcusable behavior.
His appearance on Charlie Rose was only his second interview since the incident, and a polished John chooses his words carefully this time around. It is obvious he has been deeply plagued by the public scandal. But as they say, any publicity is good publicity. His creeping return into the fashion world has quickly gained media attention, and although he forever tarnished his reputation, it’s impossible to overlook the creative genius that is John Galliano. How will he re-invent himself next?