Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How Far Can One's Allegiance to a Brand Go? (vis a vis the Galliano Incident)

Last week's fashion news involved drunken stupor, brawl fights and a surprising revival of what we had deemed long forgotten past in the form of a "I Love Hitler" video captured on cell phone. The protagonist of all was fashion designer and formerly head designer for Dior, John Galliano who hurled anti-Semitic slurs on a Parisian outing, obviously under the influence of heavy liquor. The news traveled with the speed of lightning, Dior (LVMH actually) fired him and Galliano issued a non-apology apology.

Like reported on RealBeauty.com "Newsworthy events like these can, for better or worse, impact the way people view brands and celebrities. Many were impressed with the haste with which these songbirds and Galliano’s business partners distanced themselves from their entangled alliances". (Interesting correlation made, go read it)

Sidney Toledano, himself Jewish, opened the anticipated Dior Fall 2011 show with the following statement:
“Since its founding by Monsieur Dior, the House of Christian Dior has lived an extraordinary and wonderful story and has had the honor of embodying France’s image, and its values, all around the world. What has happened over the last week has been a terrible and wrenching ordeal to us all. It has been deeply painful to see the Dior name associated with the disgraceful statements attributed to its designer, however brilliant he may be. Such statements are intolerable because of our collective duty to never forget the Holocaust and its victims, and because of the respect for human dignity that is owed to each person and to all peoples. These statements have deeply shocked and saddened all at Dior who give body and soul to their work, and it is particularly painful that they came from someone so admired for his remarkable creative talent.”
I hate to break this to them, but there is some sketchy past in the house of Dior...

The crux of the matter remains: Where does that thin line between artist and public figure begin and end? When Woody Allen rocked the celebrity circuit and raised outcry with his admitting of being in love with Soon Yi Previn, things were different: Not only was Soon Yi not his adopted daughter (the adoption papers were in Mia Farrow's name), what most people missed was the fact that the two didn't even live in the same house! Woody and Mia never really shared apartments, instead choosing to each having their own. Plus the motive was love.
Art redeems, or rather, the artist can be brilliant in his art, although flawed in his human being comportment: When homosexuality was considered a "flaw" how many nowadays revered artists (from the Great Masters of painting down to classical music) would be outcasts in their societies?
Racial slur and hate however is something completely different. Different because it perpetuates that which art is supposed to suppress and man-handle: the beast in us.

Even Jean Paul Guerlain, an old guard veteran, rocked waters a little while ago, when his quote on working on the Guerlain classic Samsara, apparently hinted at his not believing in blacks slavery being that harsh. (catch that discussion on this link). His quote was qualitatively different because the offensive part in the press relied on a fundamental mistranslation: the N word was never actually uttered. LVMH summarily severed all ties from Jean Paul (we're not supposed to ever hear again his name in mystical relation to the creation of another new Guerlain launch...) and he publicly apologized. The incident was considered comparatively mild and put behind for digestion.

With Galliano, things are on a distinctly different path. Not only is he much younger than grandpa Jean Paul Guerlain, thus not able to claim age-related haziness, he's also in the midst of the cultural milieu that involves all races and religions of the world, all erotic persuasions and all possible human variables: fashion! If Jean Paul Gaultier, an equally formidable designer in his own right, says that Galliano's work never exhibited racism, then why is Galliano showing such an attitude in his words? And where do words end and opus begins? Where does the "do I as I say and not as I do" get in the way and mix up things? How can anyone endorse his fashions or eponymous beauty products and fragrances now without a twitch of guilt and self-loathing?
What is especially vexing is that Galliano used those epithets alongside a tirade against "ugliness" and (allegedly) bad taste in a manner that shows that the worst enemy of equality and dignity is one who has been raised on the wrong side of opportunity and who got a break thanks to his many talents. A serious pity...

What's your take?


  1. "Jean Paul Guerlain clarified that he is sorry for the statement and that it does not reflect his deeper thoughts." Oh but I disagree, it DOES reflect his deeper thoughts! His response to his statement reflects the "oh shoots, got caught thinking aloud, how do I back-track?" And it also highlights his general ignorance of history-- and presumably he was sober!.

    As far as Galliano is concerned, obviously he needs to stop hitting the bottle. I doubt very much he never uttered these thoughts before in the privacy of the office amongst trusted assistants. The alcohol took over and let the flood gates of hate open, he just forgot he was in public!

  2. Anonymous15:23

    In the ages of (over?)information we often forget that the quality of someone's work does not necessarily the quality of their personality. In other words you don't have to like somebody to appreciate their work. We are tempted to oversimplify matters and accept the doctrines of publicity according to which one "has to be a star". excel in every domain, on and off stage.
    The problem is that creators themselves are foolish enough to follow this rule. They become products themselves and expose every aspect of their lives to the media. Once they do that they have no right, in my humble opinion, to ask to be judged only for their work and not for their rumblings.

  3. Camilla17:34

    My own feelings is that the driving force behind any brand’s strategic decision is always $, not immaculate moral feelings, and the press about JG’s statements has been quite hypocrite and stereotyped, IMO.
    What kind of people do consumers believe are at the helm of the economic empires represented by these huge luxury brands?
    Some years ago I used to boycott. Not based on the words that a stupid and drunken manager would proffer, but real criminal policies and actions that some major conglomerates execute every day. To-day. For me, no Nestlé chocolates, no Fiat cars, no Thales lasers in my lab, no…
    But the list started to become longer and longer, and the affiliations more and more intricate to discern.
    I gave up my boycott policy – to a certain extent.
    Referring to the creative world, though I think memoryofscent above is quite right, I tend to distinguish between the artist and his/her production – Celine the writer and it’s political ideas, Coty the fragrance maker and his political disgarce, Woody Allen the director and his pathetically ridiculous love affair, Jean Paul Guerlain and his attitude towards –well- many things (women, blacks, …).
    So, should I boycott John Galliano for his words? I suppose buying an aspirin from Bayer, after the CRIMINAL things they DID to those deported in Germany, is much worse than buying a dress from Galliano, after the STUPID anti-semitic things he SAID while drunk. To do and to say are different things, in my book.
    At the end, we are all very hypocrite about these issues. We request politically correct statements, but we are very happy to ignore the actual policies of the big companies. Unawareness doesn't make us excusable. We are "complices", to some extent.

    My grandfather was deported during WWII, but I suppose he would just qualify Galliano an As***le for his "I love Hitler" comment, pity him for his stupidity, and move on.
    There are worst things out there in the real world of facts.
    And we often support criminal policies, wether aware of what we do or not.

  4. Anonymous21:06

    In agreement with memoryofscent and Camilla, I enjoy and appreciate the work of artists but always take anything they might spew about politics, religion, morality, etc, etc with a massive grain of salt, if I listen to them at all. Most of the time, their views on the "real world" make me laugh; I think high-earning people generally live in a bubble surrounded by money and assistants. Of course, that is just the problem. If a company pays a designer obscene amounts of money and allows him to be the "face" of the brand (thereby also giving the designer PERSONALLY a platform), guess what? The remuneration is so rich in part BECAUSE you are required to be the face and voice of the brand any time you are out there in a public place. You f*** up, you lose the privilige of the money and the platform. The famous artist IS a public figure, unless he is in his own shower/bed/kitchen (unless of course he is twittering at the time).

    As to the question of buying Dior, I think I WOULD feel unclean wearing a Galliano design.


  5. Anonymous22:03

    whether he was intoxicated or not is really besides the point..he is an adult and needs to be responsible and accountable for his words and actions alike..we charge people or our legal system does..who are driving whilst under intoxication and just happen to kill someone on the road because oops they were intoxicated so come on..he is liable none the less and maybe even more so than had he been sober..as the saying goes..i goes the liquor and out spills the truth or beans in this case for his truth truly did stink..
    and yes if someone is some neo nazi maniac or supporter you are damn right not supposed to invest and support his crazy lifestyle and contribute to making this wacko a celebrity..wake up people..
    there are so many unfortunate designers who didn't get a break and are actually sane..start loving their designs..oh but wait..you might not be up to the challenge..it takes an actual individuality quality to be out of the mainstream and think for yourself..I say boycott this galliano loser....I'm waiting for some real talent..how about you?

  6. I don't know what to say. I have loved Galliano's work for years. He was one of the first designers that truly inspired me or interested me in fashion. I am saddened to find out that he is so small-minded.

    I do find it funny that the remedy for prejudice seems to attend rehab (thinking of Mel Gibson here). It's like the root of the problem is the drug/alcohol abuse, not the prejudice itself.

    Obviously the drug abuse needs to be dealt with. But intoxication is just allowing them to express the views they already held. Alcohol and drugs don't suddenly make you Anti-Semitic.

  7. AFC,

    I assume granpa JPG is like many grandpas, stubborn in his obsolete views, which were considered more "accepted" back then (and yes, historically not very savvy, hence the stubborness). I didn't especially like his comment, but it was not on the same scale as JG's I think. He did probably bite his tongue after saying it, thinking "ooops".

    Re: JG I agree that it's rather odd to open up the gates and hurl hateful tirades when there is no latent thought about at least SOME of those in the back of someone's mind.

  8. C,

    you put it so much better than I ever could! EXACTLY!
    I am a firm advocate of seperating the oeuvre from the person creating it (that way I can enjoy art) but somehow today's stars and artists have combined the two into one which are an inseperable tangle. What silliness, what arrogance and what a tall ordeal to meet!
    It's probably what marketing people saying when they view famous people as a "brand name".

  9. Camilla,

    you raise succinct and valid points and thank you for saying those things here and sharing with us your thoughts.

    I agree with you that the hidden allegencies are hard to disentangle and probably run several different ways, which makes making an informed choice a monumental task.
    Personally I'm not especially intent on hearing politically correct statements in order to "appreciate" some artist/star. But I prefer when there is integrity and consistency: When you're in the public eye, you can't support African villages pillage victims and then reveal you're racist. You can't support MAC's Viva Glam and then it turns out you're a homophobic. You can't organise shows and design collections featuring all ethnicities and then drink yourself stupid and reveal that you're a hateful anti-semite. It just doesn't mesh right.
    I would have more respect if he were consistent and said "yes, this is what I believe, I think X people should be X". If I had been given this info I would just chalk him up as a brilliant monster and severe ties between work and man for good. Now, he's trying to manipulate a sort of compassion out of me (who am not jewish, please note) as in "look what the bottle made me do".

    Then again, indeed words are not the same as actions and it's actions which we should be more vigilant of. It's just all so terribly hard!

  10. Natalia,

    the matter of sycophants and ivory towers around the rich and famous is indeed very real: they tend to lose grip of reality which can be dangerous on many ways. Very true!
    I like to (painfully sarcastically) joke that academia and TV-people live in their own rose-tinted bubbles, but that's probably most true about those "media-artists" such as fashion designers, star photographers, supermodels, megabucks film actors, pop music idols, etc.

    As you say, Galliano had become the FACE of Dior to the outer world and therefore he had to be let go. On the other hand, I can't say that LVMH's practices are exactly gurl-scout material either: hostile takeovers, insinuating themselves where they don't belong, trying to ruin markets in the other hemisphere etc. It's more of a "same needs same" case, eh?

  11. Anon,

    thanks for sharing your interesting thoughts. Can't say that you're wrong either.

    It's absolutely imperative that he sobers up, but as you say, would he have spewn all that hate if there wasn't some sperm of it lurking inside? Who knows. I certainly haven't met anyone in my milieu who while drunk uttered anything so hateful. Sure, they might have made asses of themselves, but nothing that was really demeaning to others. Here there were people who in other conditions would have been met with different treatment (or at least would have the benefit of punching his nose, LOL).

    JG's tirade was especially enraging because apart from the ethnic/racial slur (which stuck because, well, it's a more sensitive issue and one which is more popular) there was the implication that he's the sole arbitrer of taste, and that anyone who doesn't dress "just right" or looks a certain way (the girls he insulted in that other incident were Italian) is prime fodder for rejection on those grounds. Even if he were supermodel material and entitled to the arrogance of the beautiful, still, it's a low blow that is especially hurtful in public for those people. Didn't his mamma teach him we don't make fun of people on how they look? If one of them was handicapped for instance, would he say, "geez, look at that fugly mechanical leg inside that fugly boot"?

    Then again, I always admired his sense of wild creativity and outrageous free rein with imagination, a feat rare in fashion where either utter predictability (in the guise of "chic" and "classic") or shock-for-shock's-value-sake reign supreme, so it saddens me....
    Will I boycott him? Well, I didn't shop Dior couture anyway. :-)

  12. Susan,

    this is exactly what has been on my mind: He was so brilliant (see my comment above) and he harboured all that hate all along, most probably.

    You said it best: "It's like the root of the problem is the drug/alcohol abuse, not the prejudice itself." It reminds me of how in the old days they tried to "cure" homosexuality out of people, taking them to the doctor. As if doctors and science is the answer to every difficult to deal with situation (NB I'm not comparing homosexuality with having severe prejudices and racism).

    Mel has shown himself to be rather beyond redemption in that regard, because let's not forget he's been raised like that. The first glimpse of how he thought about his faith was when he said that infamous line about his wife and I stopped and wondered: "god, he's really cuckoo, isn't he; poor woman, all lively and healthy and loving, and he's thinking about what will happen to her in the after life".
    Whether Galliano is suitable to be "rehabilitated" through opening his mind I don't know: I sincerely hope so! He doesn't seem like he had such an easy life himself at the beginning, so it seems especially honerous to hear he's treating others with prejudice. One would assume that compassion is a human virtue that goes a long way...

  13. This question will always haunt us. And well it should, because the arguments on either side of the case are worth pondering.

    I do think that in an era of the personal being the product, whether television shows of "true life" or scents named for a specific person or the obligatory "story behind the creator" that gets rolled out with various launches (by which I mean a range of things, not just perfume), we rather beg the question. We demand the personal, then get disappointed when the personal does not match our expectations--or the person behind the personal finds themself in a constrictive set of expectations.

    Personally, I think certain reprehensible behaviors are just that. And there is a series of demarcations of zones where they can be tolerated. As a very public face of a brand, Galliano is subject to a stricter set of rules--it's not as if everybody at the party can just pack him in a cab and send him home, with a good friend going over the next day and explaining why he's just lost most of his pals. I also think that cell phone cameras and instant blasting are changing the contours of how we can sort the private and the public...but that perhaps is another discussion.

  14. Anonymous19:34

    has anyone read Richard Wagner's essays and heard his operas? one must separate the man's work from his person.

  15. Anon,

    Great example, that Wagner guy :-)
    (he even wrote a book about anti-semitism).

  16. S,

    what you say at the end resonates with me more than you can believe: in an age where public exposure through technology is everywhere, it's also easy to manipulate that exposure to create a certain effect. It's possible. Imagine if you have an enemy and you take their words out of context and use it against them. The immediacy of video means (perpetuated through the Net) creates a powerful effect that's not similar to how it was in decades (and centuries past). Defamation is just so much easier.

    And of course there is the issue of famous people being the product themselves: that is what they call a "brand name". Which does tend to dissapoint us in how they do not live up to our expectations.

    Every age, its own challenges, I guess.

  17. JulienFromDijon13:33

    I don't like much Galliano's style, I don't mind Galliano, I strongly reprove his antisemitic speech.
    But I don't like the way Galliano is being fired. It's very hypocritical from Dior holders and the fashion milieu, because being a jerk had nothing to do with him doing good clothing. His dresses are no better or worse now that everyone knows he's antisemitic. His disgrace is too strong too fast. If the creator side is the best side of Galliano, we should not throw it away with the rest. (and people are stupid to buy object for the fame of the brand only)
    The video was a months-old one, and this is a new upcoming that lead to the scandal. It seems Galliano blew up his second chance toward Dior direction. Still, he was completely drunk, and what he says was so stupid, can we mind that?!
    Maybe Dior was already looking for a reason to ditch Galliano. and maybe even the scandal serves Dior, plain during fashion week, so theatrical!
    I like to imagine maybe his saying was directed to his own employers. Racists mistake their anger with another one (a french saying). Because even if he was praised as a genius, and a dictator of fashion, in reality he is only a figurehead, the power of decision and the profit goes mainly to the owner, which may be jewish by origin (I'm not sure, and I don't care, with Lvmh, because "so what?"). So Galliano feels he's void, he's a big lie, he's a milk cow, he's a puppet (that adds to the paranoid idea of jewish conspirations). He is represented as a free independent artist when he feels not free at all, and he feels fake... But for me it's hard to say something rational from an irrational behavior, and in the end that's no excuse for Galiano. What is said was so horrible, he could not have made it up by hazard. (and as far as I know (=few) for me Lagerfeld and Galiano are somewhat fake on the creative plan)

  18. Julien,

    a rich and meaningful comment! Thank you!

    Obviously companies follow a rather hypocritical stance on this (the Group I should say since who could forget how Guerlain dropped JPG like a hot potato some months ago?), which is rather repelling to me personally. A video leaked (which I linked) of Dior's neo-Nazi niece and of course nobody rises an eyebrow because it was from 1960s (seems like eons away to most, I suppose).

    Of course they needed to let him go, as far as I'm concerned, even if he had been high as a kite and totally out of his wits or a complete kuckoo-head: you can't have the head designer who represents the brand say such despicable things... Then again it is almost certain that Dior WAS actually seeking for an opportunity to let Galliano go (too much gossip to transfer here). The insults didn't make sense as they weren't directed racially (the girls were Italian, the other person was non Jewish, he made an ass of himself) and now one of the victims says that they did't want to see the man broken down so humiliated and his career shredded to pieces (And that is a credible behaviour which I can well believe actually happened)

    Is Arnault Jewish? If so, then the pent up anger could be directed at him, as you say because the designer is the Group owner's "puppet", in a way and what you're saying is making an awful lot of sense actually!! *nodding my head in agreement*
    If so, then it's such a complicated issue that it suggests there are highly unethical games being played in the industry, which of course I had no reason to doubt that they were. It's just disappointing to see them revealed...The peak in anticipation for Dior's show didn't go down badly, indeed.

    Now, as to JG's talent, alas he had originality and imagination -to me he did. I don't know if his couture upheld practically (one can only judge if they actually wear it) because I haven't bought his couture (Who does? Arab wives of oil tycoons I gather).
    Karl -unfortunately- does know how to draw very well; I've seen a full book of sketches on a private auction abroad. The way he has had several collections under his fingers indicates a certain talent. Creativity...hmm...what IS creativity? Originality? Industriousness expressed into tangible designs? I don't really know...

    Interesting viewpoint at any rate and thanks again!


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