Monday evening’s British Fashion Awards featured quite the surprise, courtesy of Anna Wintour. Vogue’s iconic editor in chief made waves in her public statement of support for John Galliano, who has been shunted by the fashion world ever since an anti-Semitic rant got him axed from Dior in 2011.
Let’s have a crash course in John Galliano trivia, shall we? In 2011, Galliano was living the good life. He’d transitioned quickly in the mid-'90s from designing for Givenchy to Dior, where he stayed for years. He had also established his own label and and won multiple awards. For fashionistas and non-fashionistas alike, “Galliano” became a household name. However, being famous and successful doesn’t excuse you from being called out for your blatant, drunken displays of racism. When a video surfaced showing the designer saying, “I love Hitler,” (among other horrifying things), the reaction was swift. Dior dismissed him, and after denying the allegations and filing a lawsuit, he spent the next few years laying low—probably a good call. Recently, and with the help of longtime supporter Anna Wintour, he has been making a comeback. He temporarily assisted Oscar de la Renta in 2013 and joined Maison Martin Margiela in early October, taking on the position of creative director.
On Monday, Wintour made it clear that Galliano was here to stay, if she had anything to say about it (which of course, she always does). Not only did she ditch her usual Chanel to wear a Margiela dress, she also chose Galliano to be the presenter of the Outstanding Achievement Award that she received at the event. Both became emotional during their speeches. With this showing, it is clear that Galliano has officially been absolved of his sins by the powers that be in the fashion world.
Is this a feel-good story of redemption, or an example of another powerful person getting away with something? In the end, it boils down to a question of where we draw the line between free speech and hate speech, and whether personal opinions expressed by leaders (in any industry) should affect their professional lives. Galliano’s horrible statements have nothing to do with his abilities as a designer, of course, but should we take into account his role as a public figure? If his opinions have nothing (or little) to do with his art and his career, should they have a bearing on his success?
As public figures across industries have continuously put their feet in their mouths as of late (Think: Donald Sterling, or Elizabeth Lauten), the public has been forced to evaluate whether—and to what extent—personal opinions should affect professional careers. For the most part, those who have offended the public consciousness have stepped down from their positions. This seemed to be Galliano’s fate, but Wintour and others seem to think he has served his time.
Whether we like it or not, private businesses can hire whoever they want, and Anna Wintour can choose her own friends without consulting us. However, in doing so each must assume the consequences of his association with their brands (including Vogue’s).
As for me personally? Let’s just say that the next time I have a few thousand dollars laying around, I’ll be passing over Maison Martin Margiela.
What do you think, collegiettes? Has Galliano earned a second chance? How much should his past mistakes affect his current career?