This past week, two of the world's most recognizable men had titles taken away from them. And though their worlds are radically different--one in fashion, stripped of the Legion d'Honneur, France's most prestigious award; the other in cycling, stripped of seven Tour de France titles -- they're arguably very similar.
Side by side, John Galliano and Lance Armstrong make an unseemly pair. Galliano, a Gibraltr-born Brit, was once best known for being the first Brit to head notable French couture fashion houses Givenchy and Dior.
His designs were sensual, graceful and feminine, as Galliano believed women would subsequently feel powerful if they felt beautiful and honored. "The problem is with men," Galliano once said. "I know I shouldn't say this, but they've shrouded and hidden women to hide their [own] incompetence." But in 2011, Galliano revealed himself, too, to be a man of problems, and his sentiments were the antithesis of the beauty and grace he hoped to convey in his work. The world saw a darker and angrier designer -- one whose epithet-laced and anti-Semitic tirades would be captured and replayed around the world. But Patricia Field, costume designer of Sex and the City fame, and Eva Green, French actress (see: Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale) and Dior model, were just two of many friends defending the designer, calling his rants "theater" and "mistakes." There were talks of a set up, too, with some claiming that Dior wanted to get rid of Galliano, and didn't want to pay him a reported £17 million GBP a year.
Much like in Galliano's case, Armstrong's loyal defenders say he has been too harshly punished, and is being made an example. There's room for that discussion. But in an era where image is so closely tied to brand, and brand subject to consumer, there still seems to be little wiggle room. And though Armstrong had previously made himself available for years of testing and has never had a positive drug test, and Galliano has entered rehabilitation and apologized unreservedly, these moves were not enough. We saw Armstrong concede, announcing he would no longer fight charges, most likely to maintain what level of public approval he had -- both for himself and his successful Livestrong organization. Dior, likewise, intending to ensure their reputation remained intact, made their opinions on the Galliano fiasco known: They "firmly condemned" the actions of the designer, swiftly firing him in the wake of the outbursts. Galliano and Armstrong were titans of their respective industries, and though some argue their punishments were extreme -- and by some counts, even undeserved -- they were one thing: expected.
But attempting to minimize these men and their accomplishments can't simply be done with a modification of the record books. It's messy. What do you do with the years Galliano was named British Designer of the Year (1987, 1994, 1997), or the way Armstrong revitalized American interest in the sport of cycling? Or when Galliano designed an entire collection from one bolt of fabric, and Armstrong helped people everywhere believe that there's life after cancer? We can't erase those years and triumphs, and nor, would I venture, would we want to. It's just that now we'll think of them with a little more regret.