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Galliano’s actions, statements shouldn’t affect his art
John Galliano’s showing at New York Fashion Week for Christian Dior this year drew critics’ eyes to his work, calling it “meticulous” and “incredible.” After reviewing the designer’s collection, they referred to him as “fashion’s greatest storyteller.” In January 2011, Galliano was fashion’s sweetheart, and the world waited with bated breath to see what dramatic, artistic turns his designs would take next.
But sometime between showing in New York and presenting collections in Paris, Galliano drunkenly proclaimed his love for Adolf Hitler in a Paris bar, and critics and fashion lovers changed their minds. After the incident, seemingly similar designs received completely opposing reviews. Dior’s Paris show was deemed “weird” and “a bad dream” when the show was even mentioned at all. Much of Paris Fashion Week was consumed with talk of Galliano’s anti-Semitic remarks instead of the designs. Even the work of other designers was overshadowed at their runway shows when all reporters cared to ask about was whether or not they supported Galliano. In the months to follow, he was let go from Dior on March 1 and his fashion house on April 15. The groundbreaking designs once held in high regard seemed to be forgotten completely.
While I certainly don’t condone racist remarks in any context, when the ideas surrounding them are not reflected in creative work, they should have nothing to do with how critics and the general public receive the art. Galliano’s collections were not created to promote Hitler or degrade Jewish people. They are dramatic, beautiful pieces of couture meant to speak for themselves as works of art and should be regarded separately from the designer.
For many outside the fashion world, reading of Galliano’s Hitler comments are the first they’ve heard of the designer. This gives them the opportunity to write him off before experiencing his work. Plenty of artists—whether in the industry or not—have had similar views to those of Galliano without their work being dismissed because of their personal beliefs. Coco Chanel was a longtime Nazi sympathizer, yet her vintage designs from the World War II era are regarded as revolutionary fashion, and some of her pieces are prominently featured as works of art in places such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. At this point, who knows if the same fate is even possible for Galliano’s groundbreaking collections?
In some cases, the art so closely resembles the artist’s past digressions it would be impossible to separate the two. For example, when an artist like Chris Brown has a song that references his relationships with women or the mistakes he’s made in the past, it makes sense to draw a connection to his alleged abuse of Rihanna; one incident could have very well influenced the other.
On the other hand, there are plenty of cases that stand as a precedent for Galliano’s incident. Roman Polanski, though an alleged rapist—a crime I believe to be more terrible than an off-color rant in a bar—received critical acclaim and even an Academy Award for directing “The Pianist.” If critics and movie lovers were able to look beyond Polanski’s past long enough to recognize the art he created in film, then surely the fashion world owes Galliano the same service.
The board that fired him from his company opted to keep his name attached to the coming fashion lines. If they believe he is too horrible a person to remain in charge of his creative vision, then wouldn’t keeping his name on the line only remind the world of his past troubles? This is a cynical move on their part. The company is using Galliano’s name to sell designs and make money even though they don’t agree with his personal life, inadvertently acknowledging that his art is separate from
The comments Galliano made were wrong, but he, as a person, is being punished for them. In May, he will face a French court for his anti-Semitic remarks and could face up to six months in jail or a $31,000 fine. The artist is being penalized for his mistakes, but there’s no reason his creative work should face the same scrutiny. I can only hope when the world looks back on Galliano in the years to come, people will rise above his poorly chosen words and instead acknowledge and praise his creative genius and the influence his groundbreaking designs had on the future of fashion.