Fashion ‘wild child’ humbled in French court

John Galliano was a top fashion designer before a racist rant left him sacked and now facing jail. It's in the news – but why is the fashion industry important?

The court case is over. The defendant, in sober black jacket and loose silk trousers, has pleaded guilty to using abusive language in a French bar.

Now facing public shame and a possible six months in jail, he awaits the judge's verdict. How times have changed for the fashion superstar, John Galliano.

Until March this year, Galliano, aged 50, held the coveted job of creative director at Christian Dior, the most famous fashion house in the world and a name synonymous with stylish luxury goods.

Galliano was a risk for Dior. The British designer was already known as the 'wild child' of fashion but was considered one of the most gifted of his generation.

He went for the romantic and feminine look, emphasizing luxury rather than comfort. He was a man who loved extravagance both in life and in the clothes he designed.

As Dior's creative star he was living the dream, free to create fantastic clothes, fêted as a genius and following in the footsteps of such fashion icons as Yves St Laurent with his high society lifestyle.

But in March he was sacked by the fashion giant when allegations emerged of anti-Semitism – a crime that in French law can lead to a jail sentence.

Galliano did not deny the anti-Jewish rants but insisted he had no recollection of the incidents. He blamed alcohol and drugs for leaving him a 'shell' of himself, unable to cope with the pressure of creating more than six collections of clothes every year that both stun and sell.

The incident exposes a fault line at the heart of the fashion industry. On the one hand is the massive multi-national business, worth over £29 billion globally. On the other, creative directors who tend to be eccentric and vulnerable individuals.

Last year, Alexander McQueen, another English 'enfant terrible' who'd worked with Givenchy, killed himself. 'Fashion is supposed to be effortless,' said his friend Phillip Treacy, 'but when I look at every piece of his work I think of what he put into it and how in the end the sheer pressure of creativity killed him.'

Drowning in the shallows

Does the fashion industry matter?

Some say it's a shallow and self-obsessed business, encouraging people to spend silly money on ridiculous clothes, whilst promoting anorexia and body-image issues in young people.

Others see it as an economic success story, a big player in the manufacturing sector, which provides employment, encourages self-expression and creates wearable art. It makes the world a more colourful place.

You Decide

  1. 'Everyone's clothes are a fashion statement.' Do you agree?
  2. Should a genius be held to account for what they say? Or should they be judged differently?

Activities

  1. With a sketchpad or computer, create a clothes design of your own. Is this for everyday wear – or a special event?
  2. Reflecting on the financial requirements of a business and the creative impulses in the artist, write a piece called: 'Does business kill the artist?'

Some People Say...

“High fashion is just vain people making stupid clothes.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What was Galliano's addiction?
He told the court he suffered from a triple addiction to alcohol, valium and sleeping pills and that after being sacked by Dior, he went into rehab in Arizona and Switzerland. He said he was now in 'day care'.
Was he sorry for what he said?
'I apologise very much,' he said to the court. 'I apologise for the sadness this whole affair has caused. I embrace every people, every race, creed, religion, sexuality,' adding that he celebrated diversity through hiscouture.
Is a designer an important figure in a fashion company?
Oh yes. Fashion insider Diane von Furstenberg says that parting with a designer is as difficult and painful as finding a new one and a brand's future can hinge on making the right choice. 'When you hire a creative director it is like marriage. It is a lottery.'

Word Watch

Synonymous
'Synonyms' are words with the same meaning. 'Synonymous' can be used to describe a situation where something is very closely associated with something else.
Anti-Semitism
Prejudice against or hatred for the Jewish people. Anti-semitism has a long history in European culture and was responsible for the genocide of the holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were murdered.
Enfant terrible
A French phrase now part of the English language. It describes a talented person whose unconventional speech, thought or actions shock or embarrass people.
Couture
The business of designing, making and selling highly fashionable, expensive, usually custom-made clothing for women.

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