The Blog

Galliano Deserves a Second Chance

I hope this extraordinarily talented designer has healed and that this gentle re-immersion into the frenetic world of fashion at Oscar de la Renta proves the first step in a total rehabilitation, personal and professional.

When the news broke a few days ago that disgraced designer John Galliano had been offered a brief spell working for Oscar de la Renta in New York, it reminded me of the doubts I harboured two years ago about the "authenticity" of his anti-Semitism. Then, after a rancid anti-Semitic outburst in a Paris bar, Galliano was sacked from Dior and his own label, fined and stripped of his Legion d'Honneur.

Let me explain my dilemma: I have never quite understood why the declaration that "some of my best friends are Jews/Blacks/Muslims" should be met with such derision.

I know the argument is considered to be sophistry; that the notion that some of their "best friends" happen to be of the race which they are alleged to abhor cannot be considered a defence against prejudice per se.

And yet, the notion that someone who is truly an anti-Semite, or who genuinely harbours an innate dislike for Black people or Muslims, could form close and enduring friendships with not just one (it's "friends" in the plural, remember), but a number of people of that culture/religion/race, surely defies logic.

If someone hates Jews, he or she is unlikely to go out of their way to have them as friends, invite them into their home and voluntarily and frequently mix socially with them. Because how - unless, the bigot in question is an Oscar-standard actor - would they hide their abhorrence and hatred over a sustained period?

As a Jew, on the rare occasion I have been in the company of an anti-Semite, I have become aware of it almost viscerally and, if not instantly, pretty soon after making the person's acquaintance. The fact that I fail to conform in looks or vocal intonation to the Jewish stereotype is a handy way to observe the slight but just perceptible chill that suddenly materialises, and the fractional adjustment in body language I have witnessed, when the person I have been chatting to suddenly realises that the woman they thought was a blonde WASP is actually Jewish.

Which brings me, without wishing in any way to excuse his behaviour, to ask this question again: could John Galliano really be the hateful racist and anti-Semite that his rant at Paris's La Perla Bar, and his earlier, recorded "Hitler" diatribe indicates?

Was it really a case, as many have suggested, of in vino veritas? In which case, is it truly feasible that during the entire 14 years that Galliano was head designer at Dior, his boss, the openly observant Jew, Sidney Toledano, would not have had some instinct, some inkling of Galliano's deepest anti-Jewish feelings if Galliano really was an anti-Semite? I don't know John Galliano personally, but I know many Jewish people who do know him quite well, including a number of Jewish fashion editors and writers.

And most of them are astute, savvy women who, despite the colossal superficiality of the fashion industry, would nevertheless recognise at 1,000 Louboutin-shod paces such a level of duplicity as would have to be practised to conceal such corrosive anti-Semitism.

Until the incident in the bar, and the emergence of the video, there had not been the slightest hint of Galliano as an anti-Semite. Until those incidents, there had never been gossip about racism, overt or covert. Many of his colleagues and best friends are, indeed, Jewish. And in the gossipy world of fashion where a significant numbers of key players across the industry, in fashion houses, PR and media, in London, New York, Paris and Milan, are all Jewish - and all equipped with sensitive antennae for detecting anti-Jewish sentiments - genuine anti-Semitism is hard to keep hidden.

Or is it more likely that Galliano's was a very real breakdown; that this emotionally fragile designer was driven beyond the brink by a cocktail of booze and drugs, ingested originally from a lifestyle choice, but latterly to cope with the commercial pressure to produce a collection a month; pressure that didn't even allow him time off to mourn the deaths of his father, or of his best friend, Steve Robinson.

Let us consider this scenario instead. If, in today's world, having observed the media frenzy that ensued after Mel Gibson anti-Semitic rant, you wanted - at some deep subliminal level - to find a way to unburden yourself of this relentless stress without actually taking your own life (as your good friend, Alexander McQueen had done just months before), your sub-conscious mind would know exactly what heinous things to dredge up, and which H-word to invoke, to ensure no-one could ignore your state of mind for another moment.

If, as I suspect this vile, verbal lashing-out was a cry for help, it worked...kind of. He was fired from Dior and from his own label. But that meant that Galliano the man, rather than Galliano the designer, finally got the help he needed. He went into therapy to genuinely quit the booze and drugs, rather than merely claim to be clean, as he did when he arrived triumphantly in Paris more than a decade ago.

I hope this extraordinarily talented designer has healed and that this gentle re-immersion into the frenetic world of fashion at Oscar de la Renta proves the first step in a total rehabilitation, personal and professional.

If I'm wrong, and there's a dark heart which genuinely harbours such odious racist, anti-Semitic thoughts, it won't take 14 more years for him to be found out. Especially not in the very Jewish environment of Manhattan, where he will be working for those three weeks...

Before co-founding, the shopping and style website for grown up women, Jan Shure was a senior editor at the Jewish Chronicle