“The prodigal son returns.” – Alicia Adamczyk, Forbes Magazine
“BRB cheering celebrating #gallianoformargiela” – BryanBoy
“Congratulations #JohnGalliano @jgalliano is back, #YesLord, house of @maisonmargiela. @renzorosso #HappyMonday” – Naomi Campbell
“John Galliano is back as creative director of @maisonmargiela!! @renzorosso #jgmargiela #greatidea” – Anna Dello Russo
“JOHN GALLIANO is the new creative director of MARGIELA, I heard this rumor when I was in Paris and just received confirmation this morning! It is very exciting to see what powerful creatives do at different houses... Hedi at Saint Laurent, Nicolas at Vuitton and now John at Margiela.” – Kanye West
Is atonement possible?
John Galliano has resurfaced from the throws of fashion exile as the new creative director of Maison Martin Margiela. This announcement made Monday morning jolted the fashion community with thrill and merriment. As Alicia Adamczyk of Forbes Magazine wrote, “the prodigal son returns.” But this decision by Renzo Russo, president of OTB Group, has left many questions for the audience. Mainly, after a drunken incident in 2011, can Galliano be trusted? However, many are more concerned with what this means for Maison Martin Margiela and how the company will be moving forward. The houses namesake left in 2009 and a team of designers has since run Margiela. The house is known notoriously for its anonymity and reclusive nature. No one comes out to bow at the end of a show; the public sees no face. Only until recently when Suzy Menkes dropped the name and backstage photo designer Matthieu Blazy in July 2014’s Vogue UK did we gain insight to the house. The choice of John Galliano as creative director seems wholly contradictory of the maison’s legacy. He is known for his public appearance, larger than life personality, theatricality, and his more noteworthy bows at the end of shows - which sometimes were more extravagant than his shows themselves.
Galliano graduated from the prestigious Central Saint Martins in 1984 where his entire collection “Les Incroyables” was bought in full by Browns, a London boutique. He started his own fashion house soon after, now owned by LVMH, and thus began his legacy for dramatic yet superbly crafted clothes and runway performances. But with the success of his house came the rise of his social popularity and the beginning of what would change his career forever. Galliano, drawn to the nightlife, partied his way into bankruptcy in 1990. Financial troubles turned around for Galliano when Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley helped connect him to financial backers. This collection was created all by a single bolt of fabric and held in Paris at The Palace of Versailles. He was named creative director of Givenchy in 1995 and soon after he moved to Dior, owned by LVMH in 1996 where he worked as the creative director for 15 years. At Dior did most of theatrical, sublime shows take place - like his haute couture collection in 2000 (photos below).
In 2011 a video surfaced of Galliano drunkenly berating an Italian tourist at Paris bar, La Perle. His remarks were devastatingly racist and anti-sematic. These remarks jolted the fashion community with shame and a strong sense of betrayal. The boy wonder, which everyone loved and helped, now caught in such a precarious position. Natalie Portman, the face of Dior at the time, and other fashion figures such as Karl Lagerfeld spoke out against John Galliano and “his views” leveraging his being fired from Dior and his namesake house that year. Throughout the controversy however, few fashion figures stuck by his side. Close friend Kate Moss commissioned him to design her wedding dress that year. Since, Galliano had been committed to fashion wilderness. In 2013, having made several attempts to return to the community that built him (a stint at Oscar de la Renta for a season, attempts to teach at CSM & Parsons) Galliano sat down with Charlie Rose for an interview. In the interview he is shown the video that was published on The Sun, a British tabloid, and for an hour discusses (or tries to) what unfolded that night. After being removed from Dior, John sought treatment for drug and alcohol abuse in Arizona, USA. It was discovered that Galliano was a “black-out drinker” which is described as one not being capable of relating short term memory to long term memory and he recalls nothing from the night at La Perle. In an interview with Vanity Fair that same year Galliano states, “I never drank in order to be creative, or to do the research. I didn’t need alcohol for any of that. At first alcohol was like a crutch outside of Dior. Then I would use it to crash after the collections. I’d take a couple of days to get over it, like everyone. But with more collections, the crash happened more often, and then I was a slave to it. Then the pills kicked in because I couldn’t sleep. Then the other pills kicked in because I couldn’t stop shaking. I would also have these huge bottles of liquor that people got for me. Towards the end, it was whatever I could get my hands on. Vodka, or vodka-and-tonic. Wine, in the belief it would help me sleep. Wrong. I did manage to stop the voices. I had all these voices in my head, asking so many questions, but I never for one second would admit I was an alcoholic. I thought I could control it.” He described his journey to sobriety as “day-by-day” as most people do, and with therapy tried to figure out where those thoughts could have come from in his subconscious, how to reconcile them, and how to atone for his actions.
Fast forward to October 2014. Galliano, now sober for 3 years, returns to prominent fashion house Maison Martin Margiela. What risk does the house take by hiring Galliano who is the face of scandal? One that, though happened 3 years ago, has not been forgotten. What does allowing a convicted anti-sematic racist to be the face of a company say about the ethics and morals at Margiela and about the ethics and morals of those celebrating his return? On the appointment, Renzo Rosso says “I couldn’t be happier, for the Maison Margiela, which deserves a new visionary leader, and for John Galliano, who is a talent beyond definition and time. I always believed in brave, unpredictable choices and this one is no exception.” In the history of the arts, talent seems to trump morals. After all, fashion is a business, and someone with the talent of John Galliano is destined to make millions. Take Chris Brown for an example, though faced with the shame of abusing then girlfriend Rihanna, has been accepted back into the music industry due to his talents and ability to sell. On the other hand, how long do we allow a scandal to scar someone’s reputation? Galliano has taken steps to right his wrongs and grow personally. Is the slate wiped clean? Some may say it’s too easy. Galliano has proven to be a creative genius and many questions are left unanswered. Robin Givan spoke with Nancy Pearlstein, owner of a Margiela retailer, and a Jewish woman. Pearlstein states that though she is disgusted by Galliano and Margiela’s choice of hiring him will continue to sell the brand. Galliano’s return to fashion poses a greater question to those in and outside of the fashion community. When and how do we hold someone accountable? And when and how do we forgive and forget?
In January’s haute couture shows Galliano will debut at Margiela. Then, we will see if he holds the traditions of the house and the publics view on what’s sure to be his cinematic return.