Yesterday, as Paris Fashion Week kicked off, French design house Dior fired creative director John Galliano following mounting allegations of anti-Semitic racial insults and the release of a video that appears to show the once revered designer claiming that he 'loves Hitler.'
And who could blame them? Anti-Semitism in any guise – whether it be a shocking cry for help from a person on a wobbly psychological footing or a raving Nazi sympathiser – is abhorrent and unacceptable. And nobody in his or her right mind wants to be tarred with the same brush, no matter how stylish the feathers.
Although Galliano denies the allegations and has not yet been formally charged by the French police, Dior was left with no option but to dismiss the designer. Not only does the company's zero tolerance policy for racism and prejudice leave no wriggle room for clemency, the scandal also has obvious commercial implications for the brand.
The ramifications of Galliano's actions started to become apparent at Sunday night's Oscars ceremony. Normally a red carpet staple for peacocking celebrities, only two A-listers, Nicole Kidman and Sharon Stone, were brave (or stupid) enough to don a Dior gown. This silent shunning was shortly followed by actress Natalie Portman's very public condemnation of the designer.
For the brand, this could not have come at a worst time. Right now Portman, who was born in Israel and is very proud to be Jewish, is at her most powerful. In addition to being a newly anointed Academy Award winner for her role in Black Swan, she is also the star of the about-to-be-released Miss Dior Chérie ad campaign. Her censure has no doubt sent a roundhouse kick right into the solar plexus of Dior's 2011 P&L statement.
I do, however feel for the brand. The decision to separate itself from Galliano can't have been an easy one to make. The designer is widely credited as the fresh creative force that revived the flagging fashion house, which is owned by mega-luxury conglomerate LVMH, when he came on board back in 1996. His flamboyant style, theatrical costuming, and talent as a craftsman reportedly tripled the company's profits. We of the fashion crowd lapped it all up with glee, so on that front it's hard to say adieu.
It's also interesting to note that of the few people who have come out in support of the designer, all have remarked how shocked they were by the allegations. Galliano himself is a child of mixed parentage: he was born to a Spanish mother and British father in Gibraltar and grew up in Streatham. He's often referred to himself as a gypsy, while other publications have previously called him a 'citizen of the world.' But, this all counts for nothing now, and neither should it. Technology demands that we all watch what we say and do, especially to those that dance before the public eye. Race and prejudice are the final taboo, and what's happened to John Galliano serves as a rather drastic cautionary tale.
With the allegations being as they are, Dior has made the only choice available to them. For Galliano, it's a spectacular fall from grace that will haunt him for the rest of his life. Dior also has a rocky road ahead as the company now must struggle to break free from this cloud of bigotry as well as go about the difficult business of finding someone of Galliano's calibre to take over the reigns. It's a sad day for fashion too, as we have undeniably just one lost of our era's most influential and talented designers.