Luxury & Fashion Biz News: The John Galliano Conundrum (or, Fashion as bread and circuses)

The John Galliano Conundrum: Forgive and forget? Forgive but never forget? Never forgive and never forget?

From the snarky Guardian UK article, Poor John Galliano! Can’t people see he’s simply a charming subversive?“The very reason why fashion people rallied round him is, one imagines, part of everyone else’s lingering disgust with the man . . . The problem is that … Galliano’s contribution to the wider culture is not universally recognised as transcendent, unfairly perhaps and in keeping with what fashion people will see as widespread philistinism towards their art. To the untutored eye, the guy looks like an idiot, and his outburst, like confirmation of what one has long suspected: that the fashion world’s promotion of a single, emaciated and until recently deracinated interpretation of physical ‘perfection’ would one day spill out of the aesthetic into more tangible modes of offence.”

The Galliano debate has flared up again because he was brought into the studio of US designer Oscar de la Renta to work on the just debuted Fall 2013 collection as a Designer in Residence (whatever that means) in what’s rumoured to be a deal brokered by Vogue Magazine’s Anna Wintour to bring the disgraced (yet still talented) designer back into the fashion industry’s hungry, needy orbit.

Oscar de la Renta Fall 2013 – “It made Oscar, who’s always been a great designer, look very cool”

But while many in the fashion fold are happy to see a Galliano comeback (for example, after his ousting from Dior, Galliano was hired by supermodel Kate Moss to design her wedding dress), with even the national Anti-Defamation League supporting forgiveness and the concepts of personal change and growth, there’s also a chorus of people who want the fashion world to have nothing to do with Galliano ever again.

And Nika Mavrody writes in her Fashion Spot article, Oscar de la Renta Is Bringing John Galliano Back Into the Fold“I know there’s an argument to be made for giving Galliano a second chance after his 2011 disgrace, but I personally do believe his behaviour was unforgivable . . . I believe there’s a limit to how much we can forgive what people say and do when they’re intoxicated. I’m not saying we should imprison Galliano for life, but I don’t think it’s right to welcome him back with open arms and to help him reestablish his glamorous, high-profile career. It sets a bad precedent (and) sends the wrong message.”

Plus the latest hubbub in the papers over Galliano’s wardrobe choice when he attended the Fall 2013 Oscar show in New York reveals a lingering mainstream distrust of Galliano’s rehabilitation — which pretty much validates Dior’s decision to so quickly kick the designer to the curb once the damaging YouTube Hitler-rant video surfaced.

The video that destroyed Galliano’s career

Or, as Bridget Foley wrote for WWD: “The fact that the (NY) Post made a two-day deal, first of Galliano’s residency at Oscar, and then of his outfit, suggests that while fashion may be ready to forgive one of its own, the rest of the world may not . . . When I sought comment from retailers, most declined. That suggests A) moral outrage and/or B) tacit acknowledgment that, as retailers, their business is not forgiveness but selling. One noted that the evaluation of the customers’ mind-set would be an essential part of deciding whether to buy a future Galliano collection.”

It’s great to forgive, and who among us hasn’t done or said something reckless, stupid or regrettable that we’re grateful never got captured on a video camera and posted to YouTube? But just as there are a lot of bad judgement calls that can be learning experiences and catalysts for change, getting drunk and proclaiming an affection for a 20th century genocidal madman apparently isn’t one of them.

And with our 24/7 always-connected, always-documented world, that Galliano Hitler-rant video clip will never go away; it will always and forever be a reference point for any discussion regarding future Galliano collaborations, projects or employment positions.

What image-conscious brand could possibly weather that? And more importantly, why would they want to?

*NOTE: The latest scuttlebutt has Galliano heading for a teaching position at London’s Central Saint Martin’s school of fashion design (see: John Galliano To Teach At A Fashion School?), which is probably the smartest move the man can make at this point.

*RELEVANT ASIDE: It would be wise to note that right around the time Galliano was busily imploding his own career, Balmain designer Christophe Decarnin suffered a nervous breakdown, LVMH golden-boy Marc Jacobs was ping-ponging through a very public succession of porn-star boyfriends, and Alexander McQueen hung himself.

The new world order of corporate high-fashion is obviously a pressure-cooker environment. It doesn’t excuse bizarre Hitler rants, but it does make for an increasingly circus-like environment where performance-art as a day to day lifestyle appears to thrive.

See: The Circus of Fashion by Suzy Menkes for an insider perspective on the attention-seeking games that fashion plays, and how the snake is in danger of eating its own tail.

I blame the hedge funds (see: Is Modern Finance Ruining Modern Art?).

*About Those Circuses: Rebecca Minkoff projected a live, unfiltered stream of tweets about her fashion week show on a giant screen on the runway. What could go wrong?

Rebecca Minkoff Fall 2013 — models, musicians and Twitter trolls

*Better News: Hermes reports sales leap, expects record margin“Sales were boosted by activity in Asia where the company does most of its business and where it opened two new outlets, one in Taiwan and one in China … Sales in Asia rose by 28.6 percent and, excluding Japan, they rose by 36.2 percent … In America, where the sales network was increased, sales rose by 22.5 percent. Sales in Europe, supported by demand from foreign tourists, rose by 15.4 percent.”

It never ceases to amaze me how the relatively conservative, non-flash Hermes brand can just keep chugging along with higher and higher sales every year. As Luca Solca, analyst for luxury-goods research at Exane BNP Paribas in London, says“‘The limit to what Hermes sells is how much it can produce’ , , , Revenue ‘is what they decide it’s going to be.’”

The also not-so-flashy, lower-priced Longchamp brand experienced an encouraging 16% bump in sales due to their less trend-driven and more retro-classic inspired line of handbags: “Longchamp CEO Jean Cassegrain said January and February ‘started well’ after a ‘difficult’ December in Europe, making him ‘quite optimistic’ the luxury company can keep up its double-digit pace this year. ‘If things are getting a little tougher in 2013, it can also play in our favour,’ he said in an interview. ‘We have proven to be more crisis-resistant than some of our competitors.’”

I remember asking a Paris acquaintance what she thought of the French brand Longchamp (which is still mostly manufactured in France), and she replied that she thought it was bourgeois and boring. I guess bourgeois and boring is what sells these days.

*Or Maybe Not: Is K-Fashion the New K-Pop? — “‘Parts of Korean culture, like music and film, are becoming popular in the world,’ said Lie Sang Bong through a translator. ‘But our traditional culture is fading in the modern world. I want to modernise the traditional elements of Korea for everyone to relate to.’”

Concept Korea runway show in New York for Fall 2013

For those just tuning in, K-Pop is presently epitomised in US mainstream culture by Korean popster PSY’s “Gangnam Style“, and Korean fashion designers are more than happy to ride that brightly saturated wave if it means some increased notoriety and exposure for their brands.

Which begs the question: Can Korean designers do for New York today what Japanese designers did for Paris in the 1980s?

Marginality as an Asset: “What made these Japanese designers unique was not merely the clothes they designed but their position and status as non-Western fashion outsiders. The marginality of these Japanese has become an asset. Until Kenzo, there were no Asian designers in Paris. He was followed by Miyake in 1973, Mori in 1977, and Yamamoto and Kawakubo in 1981. The Japanese designers in a field that is predominantly Western, began to use their cultural heritage to be acknowledged by the French, and they discovered that there are considerable financial benefits that they can bring back to their own country and also to other parts of the world. With the Federation’s approval, they become insiders.”

*Speaking of Japan: ‘The Great Shift in Japanese Pop Culture‘ is a terrific five-part series that’s well worth reading, offering up insights into current Japanese consumer mindset: “Louis Vuitton and Gucci bags were once the mainstream standard for middle-class (and even lower middle-class) women, but judging from the streets of Tokyo, young women now prefer furoku canvas bags that come for free inside of a magazine. There have been signs of slight luxury business recovery in recent months, but this can mostly be explained as Japan’s upper class going out to shop again and Chinese consumers visiting Tokyo. Luxury goods will likely never again be a part of the middle-class ‘standard.'”

Meanwhile, where one middle-class market falls, another rises to take its place: Why Do Saudis Buy Luxury Goods?“The demand for luxury brands is on the rise worldwide, especially in countries experiencing rapid economic growth, but Saudi Arabia is different as luxury consumption represents middle-class aspirations . . . The world today is defined by who you know, rather than what you know. Status is more important now than ever. Being associated with elite, luxury brands helps inform others around you that you are worthy of their company and that you relate to their social class.”

What about Made in Minnesota? Is that a middle-class trend destined to catch on with the mainstream? One can only hope.


  • Hi Nathan. How
    are you? I have not missed a
    column. I am just having more
    problems commenting than I wish and gave up responding – then realized that I
    missed it. So I shall try it
    again and this time sensibly write my comment in word first.

    I am so glad you brought up Galliano. I do not recall an apology forthcoming
    from this man, has there been one?
    I will repeat that as a woman married to a Jew and as one who was
    (please note the tense for today I am sensibly a bit more moderate here) very
    much a Zionist – nothing has come
    along to offend me more within the fashion world than this arrogant little
    snot’s anti-Semitic rant. His
    entire career should have seen its demise. And with no apology his name should never be seen again.

    Now, I think I will go upstairs and throw out my de La Renta
    lipstick (one of my favorite – and for me lipsticks are a problem to
    find). Had I been Kate Moss I
    would have publicly spoken of how I had wanted Galliano to design my wedding
    dress but that as an anti-Semite he would not be doing do. I fall into that chorus of “never

    I was sorry to here of the trio of designers whose lives are
    in such a mess … a sign of the industry and times. Oddly it reminds me of the early years during the AIDS
    crisis in which I spent most all of my time working.

    For some reason (I think that all had gone home and/or gone
    to bed early) I was first introduced to PSY’s Gangnam Style on New Year’s
    Eve. I was absolutely mesmerized,
    mesmerized and revolted at the same time.

    • Hi Liz — Sorry to hear that Disqus has been giving you trouble. It seems like every comment system I try has its quirks and issues. I’m hoping Disqus can provide the maximum amount of stability and convenience with the minimum amount of frustration.

      With an emphasis on the word, “hoping”.

      But about Galliano, I do believe he’s issued an apology (though I think it was unfortunately offered with a good bit of denial attached), but the ADL has come out in his support, saying that he’s met with them numerous times and seems genuinely remorseful of his words and behaviour:

      “For the past year and a half, Mr. Galliano has been on a pilgrimage to learn from and grow from his mistakes. Now people are trying to distort and destroy him,” Mr. Foxman (of the ADL) concludes. “He has spent hours with me and with others in the European Jewish community, including rabbis and Holocaust scholars, in an effort to better understand himself and to learn from his past mistakes. He is trying very hard to atone.”

      But the rehabilitation effort has been intensely private while the offence was highly public, and that may be the problem. Once something like that video clip goes viral on YouTube, there’s no downplaying it or getting over it. It will always be there, and he has to live with it as a permanent stain on his reputation.

      And yes, I agree that Oscar de la Renta’s “we need to give people a second chance” gesture may have won him some friends within the industry, but it will probably cost him among his consumer base.

      There’s a lot of competition out there for the world’s fashion dollars, and 99.9% of that competition doesn’t have videos up on YouTube with their head designers drunkenly professing a love for Hitler.

      Respect his talent or not, that’s some serious PR damage the man did to his own life and career.

      Mesmerized + Revolted is an appropriate response to PSY’s “Gangnam Style” — it’s hilarious and riveting and horrifying, all rolled into one.

      • Nathan, I am thrilled to hear Mr. Foxman’s words. They are good enough for me. This sort of situation, once it happens and then is corrected thru willingness and caring often produces better results than something that does not happen at all. When one can face his mistakes and reverse them, change within … well, a feather in his cap! Thanks so much for letting me know!

        • It certainly does make a difference that the ADL is so publicly in Galliano’s corner. Without that kind of support, I’m not certain he’d be able to weather the hubbub that keeps trying to bubble to the surface.

  • Marin

    Is there a pool for what/when Galliano’s next PR meltdown will be?