March 9, 2011

Too Much Fashion Bravado

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According to Oscar Wilde, “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” While this statement holds some constant truth, it is especially apt for describing the past few weeks in fashion.

Head designer at Christian Dior, John Galliano, was dismissed on March 1st after a sixteen year run at the couture house. His illustrious career and visionary genius did not at all protect him from the damage incurred to his reputation by his rude, cruel, drunk anti-Semitic rampage in a Paris bar this winter that was taped and went viral. His insults critiqued three Italian women for their clothing, bodies and religion, and ended in the bold flourish “I am John Galliano.” The house dismissed him immediately and this Friday he will stand trial on allegations of “public insults based on the origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity”.

Galliano came to Dior in 1996, during a decade in which many fashion houses with storied pasts tried to revive their brands with young designers. Galliano has had a tumultuous career, from his sell-out senior thesis collection bought up by Browns department store in London to multiple backers and bankruptcies, to the highest highs as head designer at Givenchy and then Dior. He has been awarded the French Legion of Honor and a CBE for his design work. In the aftermath of this event, prominent figures in fashion have alternately defended his character, condemned his comments and spirit and showed their support for a friend in a difficult moment.

Spending his formative years in London, Galliano was exposed to the punk rock scene of the early 1980s, with its political associations to nihilism and anarchism. Punks would sometimes wear the Nazi swastika symbol on their leather jackets purely for shock value. This is no justification for either act, but it could be argued that Galliano was employing the exact same shock tactic in invoking Hitler’s name in his tirade. This is what his close friend and Sex and the City stylist Patricia Field has been arguing in the press — that he is a deeply theatrical person who got carried away in a drunken moment. It is impossible to deny that he is drama personified.

From a creative standpoint, Galliano has consistently produced phantasmagorical work that challenges the possibility of what a garment can be, while always respecting the body within the garment. Unlike the late Alexander McQueen, another manic genius designer who always created darkly romantic work, Galliano has a tremendous range, moving from deeply gothic blood-soaked gowns to floral origami creations that enfold the body in the happiest colors. Throughout whatever theme he alighted on, from topiary to Dutch painting, the consistent factor was his signature exuberance and bravado. Like so many other brilliant designers, it was this same soaring exuberance that has now sunk him to this dark place.

Fashion does not pause, and so the show went on last week when Galliano’s latest and last Dior ready to wear collection showed at Paris fashion week on a poignant and uncomfortable note. Dior CEO Sidney Toledano made a speech before the models walked, commenting that the label would march on and citing “the heart of the House of Dior, which beats unseen … made up of its teams and studios, of its seamstresses and craftsmen.” At the end of the show, instead of Mr. Galliano himself strutting out to take his bow as usual, the credit went to forty seamstresses for the line who appeared in their white work coats and bowed simultaneously.

While it was somewhat of a beautiful move on the part of Dior to recognize these incredible behind-the-scenes technicians and serve as a salve in that painful moment, it is irrelevant and will never happen again. What will happen is a questioning of the relevance of the diva designer in this age. The best collections this season were not flashy and their designers offered little more than a sound bite and a quick bow. In an era of conscientiousness towards responsible design and an emphasis on value, the extravagant designer is being edged out. Goodbye, Galliano of Dior, may your genius be reincarnated in a more humble form and reborn into something more beautiful.

Original Author: Amelia Brown