Everyone knows about John Galliano – but for the wrong reasons.
You might know that Galliano is a fashion designer. You might even know that he’s such a talented designer that his first collection was bought in its entirety by London boutique Browns (an incredibly rare occurrence). You might know that his designs were flamboyant and brought a theatrical edge to an industry that was, in the mid-nineties, still overdosing on minimalism and Calvin Klein slip dresses. You might be aware, even if only in a peripheral sense, that he was one of the greats; he was the man that made Christian Dior great again.
If you don’t know that, you’ll definitely know him as the man who drunkenly told people in a bar in Paris that he loved Hitler and that the forefathers of the people he was spewing anti-semitic bile at would have been ‘gassed’. It was recorded on video and spread all over the internet. In it, Galliano is slurring in a very pronounced way.
Perhaps he was unaware that, in France, expressing anti-semitic ideas in public is illegal, as well it should be. Perhaps, and you could easily theorise that this was the case, he didn’t care. He was found guilty, lost his job and for the most part, destroyed his reputation. That was two years ago.
Galliano has steadily been building his way back up the fashion ladder, aided by powerful friends. His efforts to atone (his words, by the way) have been applauded. He works quietly with big name designers, without a fuss. Rumours abound that he is to take a post teaching at one of the big fashion colleges. This month, British Vogue is featuring a portfolio of his work photographed by the endlessly imaginative Tim Walker. More than that, even – he is the guest fashion editor for the entire magazine.
So, what’s to be done about Galliano? Should the public continue to shun him or should they let his designs speak for themselves? It’s impossible to predict what will happen to any degree of accuracy. All I can tell you is how I feel about it.
It’s a bit like this. We are taught to hate the sin and love the sinner (perhaps the only truly useful thing that non-practising Catholics learn in religion class). We should love the art and hate the sin – and if you must hate the sinner, at least leave his or her creative output out of it.
We need to separate the art from the artists. Caravaggio killed a man. Burroughs shot his wife in the head. How many writers have killed themselves, only to have the shabbiness of their deaths woven and bastardised into a convoluted creative myth?
Even with fashion, there are those whose legacy ensures a blameless record. Coco Chanel certainly did shady deals with the Nazis. Her reputation is whitewashed and romanticised almost to blandness – something the woman herself may well have hated.
Don’t forget what Galliano did. Similarly, don’t forget what else he has done, and will continue to do. You may be pleasantly surprised.