Cheekily updated: When Vanity Fair July 2013 slams forth on Tuesday, June 11, we'll read super-lengthy wordage about John Galliano's tangle with addiction and heartache. That interview was long on hold, but I wrote a feature proposal for my book review of Death by Dior and handed it to the Gray Don (aka Graydon Carter), editor of Condor Nest's "Vanity bonbon Fire" (okay, Condé Nast's Vanity Fair); I sent an S.O.S. (save our ship) to the illustrious Anna Wintour ... and when I did, the pace picked up. In April, I reached out to John and to his partner Alexis Roche, not knowing anything about them. Wow. Do you know what I found? Two lads who are just kids. Kids for art. None of the mean splendours of the fashion industry taint their hearts. Their lives maybe, but not their hearts. So here is my take on the situation and my best wishes to all involved. I know I've hurt people in my life. And I'm sorry. When we make a mistake that we rue and amend, well, we can hope that we become better people. I don't think that the world needs any more whipping posts (formerly used in public to which offenders are tied to be beaten) and I don't think that Galliano needs any more whippings. I'd like to walk away from my interaction with Galliano and Roche with my mind set on creative joy and yeah, even cheekiness.
Being drunk. Being high on prescription drugs or cocaine and heroin. Some people get trapped like that.
You know, creative people - also everyday people. In fact, just about anybody. It happens - an insidious need.
Then worse happens. People who are addicts get into trouble. Take these cases, a legacy of addiction from the creative side of town...
In the world of high fashion, it's no longer fashionable to be high. Interviews with designers, photographers, editors and executives in the wake of Calvin Klein's statement last week that he has entered an alcohol and drug treatment program - the first major fashion figure to do so publicly - reveal an industry that has been moving quietly toward sobriety. (Woody Hochswender, NY Times, May 16, 1988)
In 1988, we were in the jaws of AIDS, getting devoured. Steve Rubell, co-founder of Manhattan's Studio 54 said, "There's nothing more out than being out of control." He should know since he presided over the club where in 1977, Mick Jagger's wife - wearing a red Halston dress - rode a white horse bareback, led by a naked dude body-painted like a faun.
Rubell, who had a larger-than-life reputation for kindness, died of AIDS in 1989; designer Angel Estrada in 1989; Halston, 1990; Perry Ellis in 1986, one of the first: AIDS was the "season of the witch" and people were scared (quoting singer/songwriter Donovan, 1966).
But trouble can act as a corrective. Many people opted for rehab.
When Christian Dior was dying from his addictions in 1957, lots of other celebrities were also druggies and alcoholics, but people weren't scared. We didn't have AIDS.
These days in the fashion industry, it's gotten scary once again because of the money involved. Being out of control as Rubell said, is "out."
Gianni Versace was murdered in 1997, to the horror of the entire fashion world. His sister Donatella took artistic control of Versace; sales plummeted and by 2004, Donatella was publicly incoherent and entering rehab.
Alexander McQueen hasn't closed as a fashion house, but losing its artistic genius, Lee McQueen to suicide in 2010, sobered people. When McQueen hanged himself, he did so in a state of overdose, his body a stew of cocaine and assorted drugs. Lee McQueen was much loved, a gentle man. His mother had died only a few days before. It broke his heart. It appears that we lost McQueen to drugs, stress, and sensitivity. An artist often has a tender heart, and just as often, it's damaged.
Fashion is business. If a maison loses its resident genius, that house anticipates revenue loss. Losing money scares people.
When folks at a café in Paris filmed John Galliano's crapulous rant of ethnical slurs, insults of every sort regarding patrons' eyebrows, thighs, and you name it, the House of Dior feared for its livelihood.
"I unequivocally condemn the statements made by John Galliano, which are in total contradiction to the longstanding core values of Christian Dior," Sidney Toledano (Dior's president and chief executive officer).
Christian Dior suffered from addiction and died of a heart attack. The new book Death by Dior by Terry Cooper (Dynasty Press, London) reports that by 1957, Dior lived - and died - in a haze of injections. His one-time heir to the House of Dior, Françoise Dior, professed herself to be a neo-Nazi in 1963, and Christian Dior made a living in the mid-1940's designing gowns for Nazi wives in occupied Paris. Does Dior's history of Nazi affiliation and drug use correspond with Toledano's statement about "longstanding core values?"
The louche life has had some comeback kids, for sure. Naomi Campbell, Marc Jacobs who entered rehab twice, Kate Moss, and perhaps nobody more completely than the style maven herself, Coco Chanel: opiate abuser, Third Reich agent and Nazi mistress throughout WWII.
Strange that Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel says that she "wasn't only a designer, she was a woman of her time." Of John Galliano, Lagerfeld says, "You cannot go in the street and be drunk - there are things you cannot do. I'm furious with him." Lagerfeld says that fashion is more business than art, "The thing is, we are a business world..." (Lauren Milligan, Vogue, March 2,2011)
This could be interpreted to mean that if the bucks are inviolate then so is a designer's conduct - at least as far as Coco Chanel's. She did as she pleased.
Mr. Galliano said at his trial in Paris that after creative highs, he'd crash. Alcohol and drugs helped him to cope and to function. In 2007, Galliano lost his design team's right-hand man and dearest friend, Steven Robinson to a cocaine overdose/heart attack. When the stresses of the design schedule hit excessive high-marks, Robinson sometimes slept at the foot of Galliano's bed. As a team, they were that inseparable. Galliano says that he never fully recovered.
The wildly acclaimed Christian Dior Haute Couture Spring Summer 2007 collection by Galliano featured the romantic meme of the geisha. It was Asian: Japanese cherry blossoms on the stage. River-green gowns, layered like a teahouse rooftop. Cerise shoes.
We hear emphatically that Galliano was fired for "anti-Semitic" slurs, yet café patrons said on the witness stand at his trial that Galliano abused everybody, including Asians. Was it ugly and wrong? Of course. He's said so. In Vanity Fair, he will say it with even more elaboration.
Galliano says that he was subjected to prejudice all of his life. It'd be the last thing he'd willingly do to another person. "They're not views I hold or believe in," Galliano said in a statement.
Multiple witnesses tell that Galliano was obviously, deeply drunk. The police report lists Galliano as legally intoxicated.
When I reached out to Galliano and his romantic partner, Alexis Roche, they came across as two very artistic, sincere men who are as candid and zestful as children.
Now Galliano is in trouble and the corrective has been punitive. It looks like he was drunk and on drugs and said outrageous stuff that he would never mean seriously.
"Your name is Sephardic Portugese/Spanish in origin, Alexis. And he loves you. The whole thing seems heartbreaking," I say.
I point out that we recently lost Lee McQueen due to the stress of the industry and that we don't want to lose John Galliano, who radiates love for his art, for the people who enjoy his clothes and for the models that walked his shows for free: Campbell, Moss, and Turlington. Galliano describes "hearing the rustle of the taffeta" and "being able to smell the perfume on the girl." The glee that once was Galliano's shines through still, alive and well. Galliano brings fairy tales to life, although he's been very close to losing his own.
Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss have helped Galliano tremendously at this difficult time. They too were drug abusers. They understand.
Maybe having a witch-hunt at the House of Dior isn't the best way to help either artists or the population at large who benefit so enormously from art. We look to Galliano's own reckoning in the upcoming Vanity Fair, and Alexis Roche concludes for me, "I believe the interview is finished. God bless."
Reducing art to the level of the dollar devalues art's tender heart. Art needs a creator, the artist. Over and over again, artists make their greatest art in utter poverty. John Galliano's first success was on the simple, without any bucks.
(PA Photo With Permission)