Click above to see Suzy Menkes's report for The New York Times.
My stomach sank when I saw the video of John Galliano sauced and slurring hateful statements at a couple in a Marais bar. I barely paid attention to the words coming out of his mouth, as I was so shocked by his raving madman appearance. His deportment, his everything just looked sick and stoned. His babble may have been intelligible ("I love Hitler" is hard to mishear), but not understandable. Why in the world would a man of his cultured, artistic, educated sensibilities from a mixed heritage be spouting hate speech at strangers? I'd venture to answer that question with the word "alcohol." Nursing drinks alone at a cafe until the point of incoherence is something that seems to have been a pattern of late for Galliano, having been caught under the same circumstances a few times in the preceding months. He's obviously struggling with big demons, and for that reason, I'm hesitant to go any further into the issue of his dismissal from Dior, but it raises some interesting points.
Just to be clear, what Galliano said was abhorrent and tastelessly vile. I in no way condone what he said, or care to make light of it. I also don't want what I'm about to say to be taken as an excuse for his behavior. That being said, genius is maddening. I don't use that word lightly or flippantly. Galliano's moments of utter artistic mastery are many. The man made clothes from the universe of brilliance floating in his head, and presented them in ways that elevated them to the status of fantasy come true. Some of his collections still give me goosebumps at the mere conjuring of memories. When he sent Kate Moss running down his 1994 runway as a refugee princess in caged crinoline, or when he presented a couture show based on the insides of gowns he made fashion magic.
Video of preparation for Galliano's Fall 1995 collection of refugee princesses with Kate Moss.
The brilliant Fall 2005 dresses that exposed the underpinnings of couture construction.
Amazing pieces from Galliano's Spring 2007 Dior Couture Origami Collection.
I don't excuse artists' bad behavior on the grounds that they are good in other areas, but there is something to be said for the strain that such success and creative energy put on a person. So many gifted artists struggle with living in reality, the only thing they don't create. Their brains are too busy with their mediums, their sketching, their playing in dimensions few of us visit normally. As their star hopefully rises, so does the pressure they are under to produce more and better. Soon they are sleepless and under the gun and expected to go forth and prosper hugely. What happens at the end of years of that type of magnified pressure? Something bursts. We've seen it before, to tragic end. We'll see it again, but not under the auspices of the corporations that drain the genius from the artist for brand gains. The corporate entity that is Dior (backed by the behemoth that is LVMH) couldn't possibly risk boycott by offended people, so they tossed Galliano right quick. Perhaps deservedly so. But where is the place for the madness that makes magic? Where is the allowance for all of that mess that winds up feeding the flame of brilliance? Proclaiming an affinity for the most incomprehensibly villainous war lord of recorded history is astoundingly ugly; it is extremely ugly. But how do you reconcile that ridiculous abomination with the talent in his field that this man has? How do you mediate between Galliano's dumb, despicable words, and his deft, glorious designs? I guess we toss him and open up the floor for someone less inclined to hurl hate. But what of all that talent? What of it? If he sits on it he might explode.
Some of Galliano's less successful flights of fancy for Dior (there are quite a few more where these came from).
I bet there are some who may think that a John Galliano explosion is not such a bad option right now. Perhaps the seamstresses, embroiderers, cobblers, and milliners who's jobs he's placed in jeopardy. This brings me to my final point: Maybe John's just an ass. Maybe he's been an ass for years. If he gets drunk and snarls epithets at strangers, who knows how he's treated his staff, his employees, the workers who he directs? I don't mean to speculate errantly, but the quick dismissal seems to have been right quick enough to point to a camel and straw situation. His designs have wavered in the last few years. The over-the-top creations he's sent down the runway haven't translated to sales as heatedly as in his heyday. There were rumblings of LVMH dissatisfaction seasons ago. I don't think they anticipated this kind of an end, but maybe the smoking camera phone was their way out. And maybe it's time. The heads of houses can stay on for years, with little change. Now there's a job opening: Seeking brilliant designer with PR skills and a love of water over whiskey. Anti-Semites need not apply.