Runway ticket

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2011, 12:00am

Paris Fashion Week opened with a particularly nasty taste in the mouth. As a stark reminder, staring out from the back page of the Chambre Syndicale handbook is Natalie Portman, the Jewish-American actress who just a week ago expressed her disgust with John Galliano and denounced all ties with him after witnessing his now infamous anti-Semitic rant on YouTube.

The ongoing drama that has embroiled the fashion world for more than a week is not Lady Gaga's Mugler runway appearance, but Galliano's arrest over alleged anti-Semitic comments he made at a Paris bar, a video made public by a British tabloid newspaper and his sudden dismissal from luxury brand Christian Dior.

Images of the inebriated designer slurring about his love for Adolf Hilter have now been broadcast around the world. How are Dior and the designer ever going to recover?

In Paris, most editors agree that Dior had little choice but to dump their star designer of 14 years and distance themselves from this public relations disaster. At the brand's show on Friday, police were present as hordes of editors, buyers and the like squeezed through the entrance to the Musee Rodin. Photographers flanked both sides, snap happy at the controversy - it was more like a crime scene than a fashion show.

Dior had become the most talked about show this season, but for all the wrong reasons. Despite rumours that editors would boycott the event - if it went ahead at all - the masses showed up to witness what would be Galliano's swansong.

Before the show began, there was some serious housekeeping to do. Dior's chief executive, Sidney Toledano, made an emotional 10-minute speech in which he spoke of Monsieur Dior's vision and those committed to sustaining it, while expressing his support for the house's 'collective duty to never forget the Holocaust'.

Galliano's name was not uttered once - instead the show was credited to the 'extraordinary, creative and marvellous efforts' of the artisans and seamstresses who work behind the scenes at Dior's atelier. Just like that, the divorce was signed, sealed and delivered.

The feminine collection that followed heavily featured Galliano's fingerprints, from the sexy boudoir pieces, frills and hooded capes to the bloomers, brocades, velvet and flirtatious runway poses. It was met with a somewhat lukewarm response. Instead, the audience was too busy looking towards the runway entrance to see who would come out to close the show.

A Galliano runway bow had been a spectacle in itself - over the years he had appeared in a number of guises, from a spaceman to the Marquis de Sade. But this time around, there was no performance. Instead, the atelier team emerged dressed in white lab coats, to rousing applause. It was a symbolic rebirth, a hasty but beautifully executed communique of a new beginning. If Dior wanted to remind people that this was the house of Christian Dior, not John Galliano, it had the desired effect.

Despite police confirming that Galliano will stand trial for his latest offence (anti-Semitism is illegal in France), Galliano's show for his eponymous label proceeded as planned. Instead of hosting the usual 800-people spectacular, it was reduced to a presentation with a tightly controlled guest list. Toledano, who has also invested in Galliano's label, was there to usher in important members of the press.

The collection featured his usual glamorous spectacle of kimono dresses and 1940s silhouettes and has gained more critical praise (in new online reviews and from viewers) than his Dior collection. Celeb fashion blogger Diane Pernet commented, 'I wouldn't go, even if I had a ticket', although industry stalwarts such as Vogue's Andre Leon Talley showed their support.

So what to make of all of this? Previous reports have indicated that Galliano was the jewel in Dior's crown, although insiders are now saying that LVMH chief executive Bernard Arnault had grown tired of Galliano's antics in recent years. Some say it was a matter of economics. Galliano was reported to be the highest paid designer in the industry - more so than LVMH's other star designer, Marc Jacobs. Maybe his contract had an expiration date after all.

While the designer has made a public apology through his British lawyers (rumours suggest that he has already checked into rehab in Arizona) the damage has been done. Along with a general feeling of sadness, shock and sympathy, pundits are jumping in on any opportunity to add their two cents worth about the controversy.

Those who knew him personally, however, maintain that he was actually quite shy and modest, and express pity for a man that fell so hard from grace.