John Galliano, ex Christian Dior designer, was convicted today in a Paris court for two racist and antisemitic rants with a suspended fine sentence. I was on my Road Trip with Dee when this incident happen back in March. Not to sound too much like Lloyd Bentsen debating Dan Quayle, but … “I knew John Galliano. I went to St. Martins with John Galliano. This is not the John Galliano I knew”.
John was one year ahead of me when I entered St. Martins School of Art in London, 1981, but as he was enrolled in the four-year curriculum and I in the three-year, we graduated together and showed our final collections in June 1984. Well, the rest of us were really the ‘also ran’ as John’s collections, yes plural, as he did two final collections, outshone the rest of the student body. My small glimmer of reprieve was that, along with John and a few other students, Suzy Menkes in her report for the London Times, gave me a mention as “the best knitwear” and included a runway photograph. There were no other, header page photographs and John did not get the praise that the rest of the press bestowed upon him.
I remember John as being the flame that attracted all the pretty Butterflies and many moths. Wherever John was, whatever he was doing, he was the center of attention. He held court with the ease of someone with perfect and thoughtful diction brought forth by a deeply intelligent mind and even sharper wit. You were either a courtesan to the Court of Galliano, or you were not. And I was not and had no interest in what was always regarded as the fast-set. Those students living on the edge both socially and academically with all the rumored trappings of modern indulgence. As our graduation collections were draped, cut, crafted on the same sewing floor, we had ample opportunity to be exposed to each other and each other’s time and work.
For some reason, John always regarded me separately from the other students. I was never sure whether it was because I was one of very few students who mastered the technical intricacies of machine knit-craft, something he had not, or that I had successfully labored many hours over vats of sulphuric acid dyeing my Lambswool collection or that he was simply momentarily curious. “Do you ever think of proportion when you design?” A witty retort from John with his unwavering large black eyes, his chin resting on his hands, a slight and mischievous smirk suggested on his Spanish lips, comfortably seated on a counter stool observing me drape and pin and rip as I built my Japanese inspired, loosely shaped and folded collection. I simply chuckled and sarcastically thanked him for his input.
But, there was never malice in John’s comments or intents. John spoke his mind and his brilliant mind was often right. He added to that comment weeks later upon seeing me victorious with my yarn all dyed and dried and back on their original cones from the dying hanks with, “Well. You’ll get the color right next time“. I was too exhausted to say anything, but smile back again and laugh and enjoy my slight revenge when I notice a large, red-white-blue, French Rosette adorning his sketch book, placed securely under his arm and as precious and protected as the Book of Kells. “Are you doing a French Revolution inspired collection for graduation, John?” I asked genuinely. John’s face fell as quickly as if he had been slapped. The closely guarded and always protected secret was out. “How on earth did you know?“, was John’s alarmed reply assuming I had peeked into his sketch book. “For gawd sake, John. What on earth does a red-white-blue, French Rosette suggest to you other than the French Revolution and Madame Dafarge?” I was sworn to secrecy.
The other John was John ‘F’. As pretty as an English flower and as innocent when he entered our graduation year as a new student, until he flew into the bright flame that was John Galliano. Once John F was inducted into that exclusive realm, he no longer had a moment to converse with other students nor even to deign a glance their way. I was always quietly saddened at this conduct, but not surprised. The last time I saw John F was when I was riding my bicycle away from the Central YMCA’s gym, post graduation, on a street empty of people except for me and one other who happened to step out in front of me and, as befits the situation of moving bike and moving pedestrian who almost collide, our eyes met. Finally, John F smiled that sweet and unassuming smile that had disappeared months before. Only a few years later, before he had seen the last of his twenty decade, John F died of a heart attack whilst working in Italy. I read the news from my Fifth Avenue employ and quietly regretted and wondered and assigned blame to a period of innocence lost and an introduction to stimulants that I was sure had caused this early death.
John Galliano’s charge and conviction has alarmed me. That France has laws that smack of “thought Police” from the prospective of an US Citizen who keenly understands that freedom of speech also means having to tolerate the right of someone else’s speech that we may strongly disagree with or views that we find abhorrent. I am also not sure how anyone takes seriously the rants of an addict and drunk let alone threaten to clap him in irons and penalize him financially. The US Supreme Court judged in favor, this year, of Reverend Fred Phelps right to his abhorrent picket and protest of the funerals of dead servicemen with signs and loud rhetoric that includes “God Hates Fags”. In the US, we call it free speech. In France, they call it an outrage punishable by gaol. Perhaps it’s an over reach and collaborator guilt from the Vichy years during World War II, but it’s bizarre.
In 1947, tired of the Post World War II, austere fashions, Christian Dior, introduced his “Corolle” collection to the delight of Europeans and the dismay of Americans who quickly referred to it as “The New Look”. It may seem ridiculous now, but the American public were intimidated and threatened by this return to pinched waists, soft lines, feminine curves, full and long skirts in what seemed like too much change and all in the wrong direction … downwards. US protests included the slogan, “Mr. Dior, we abhor dresses to the floor“. In light of The House of Dior’s quick dismissal of their genius designer when what he needed most was intervention and medical care, I am compelled to say, House of Dior, those who know and knew John abhor his mistreatment at your hands.