John Galliano's first public interview since his firing from Dior has just been posted to the Vanity Fair website (the full article is included in the publication's July 2013 issue). Responses to his remarks will vary depending on the reader's prior opinions on a variety of subjects, including but not limited to Galliano himself, Christian Dior, luxury conglomerates, the film Zoolander, alcoholism, Judaism and Jewish people, clothing, theatrical runway shows, the Holocaust, Raf Simons, typical behavior while blackout drinking, racism, the definition of art, mental health.
(My opinions go like this: [redacted*], a legacy worth preserving, evil, funny, insidious disease, identify, it goes on our bodies and is linked to shame in Judeo-Christian cultures, they last like five seconds and are staged for the purpose of promoting a brand, a horrible multinational tragedy that happened in Europe only seventy years ago, nice-seeming talented man who makes pretty clothes and has an endearing mole, one time this guy I was dating got blackout drunk and told me he loved me but then we broke up like three weeks later, should be one of the only taboos on speech and mental reasoning, unfettered creative expression, complicated but if people deserve anything they deserve our compassion.)
Finally, in Galliano's own words, the narrative we've been hearing from his loyal supporters ever since the former Dior designer was fired from the famed French couture house and his eponymous label: he had an alcohol problem spurred by the intense pressures and isolating factors of his job; he was not himself when he made the statements which led to his downfall; Galliano does not believe the things he himself said.
On whether he's an anti-Semite:
“It’s the worst thing I have said in my life, but I didn’t mean it. . . . I have been trying to find out why that anger was directed at this race. I now realize I was so fucking angry and so discontent with myself that I just said the most spiteful thing I could.”
This is a familiar idea. American writer James Baldwin observed that the reason racism is so damaging and dangerous is because it's an expression of self-hatred; basically the entire first part of The Fire Next Time, Baldwin's famous 1963 book, is written on this subject, that “whoever debases others is debasing himself.”
On his alcoholism:
“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.”
On his conversation with Bill Gaytten, his temporary successor and longtime colleague at Dior, after he was fired:
“Bill said, ‘Do you realize what you’ve fucking done?' And I said, ‘Kind of.’ But I still didn’t. I couldn’t say yes. I just couldn’t. And those were the last words we shared. That’s someone I’ve known for 30 years. Even now I’m still learning every day how many people I hurt.”
Galliano's comments to Vanity Fair seem exceedingly honest and heartfelt. I don't think you can read through his account without feeling sympathy for him, but there's surely a PR angle. I wonder what he might say differently if he weren't seeking professional rehabilitation (he has apparently already reached out to retailers in an effort to make amends). Whether or not he was drunk out of his mind, Galliano committed a literal crime — he was found guilty of hate speech in French court. The designer has always been exceptionally creative, but at Dior, he was also an employee of a giant corporation (LVMH, which owns the label, is one of the largest companies in the world) which has a vested interest in people buying their products and is not in the business of nurturing Galliano's wounded inner child. Fashion is a commercial endeavor and I bet many people would rather not buy marked-up handbags and sunglasses from a company represented by someone who is so publically disgraced.
I hope Galliano finds friendship and support throughout his continued recovery; I hope he finds a way to lead a meaningful, healthy life filled with love and art and everything that matters to him. But I'm not sure that I believe he deserves to, or will, find another position as head designer at a major label. Fashion is a business, designers are brand ambassadors; runway fashion is publicity, not product. John Galliano might be an artist, but he is not a publicist, not an aspirational figure.
*Just kidding. Incapable of keeping my opinion about John Galliano to myself.