All it took was forty-two seconds. In 2011, a camera phone video of fashion designer John Galliano—who was clearly intoxicated—making racist and anti-sematic slurs towards patrons at Le Perle bar in Paris’s Marais district went viral. It turned his life upside down.
Galliano was immediately ousted from LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessey) where he had spent fifteen years as Christian Dior’s lauded couturier and creative director. His eponymous label was shed from major department stores globally, and he was later stripped of his Legion of Honour by French president Francois Hollande. The world was appalled by his actions and many questioned whether he would ever be able to return to the world of fashion.
Fast-forward three years. In the time that has past, Galliano has sought rehabilitation for multiple addictions (alcohol and prescription pills) and taken steps to atone for his actions. Staying relatively clear of the public eye, he has slowly made attempts to re-enter the fashion world. Last year, Galliano served as a guest editor for British Vogue and spent a three-week stint at Oscar de La Renta. In May, he was appointed creative director at L’Etoile, a Russian perfumery.
But Monday marked his official comeback into fashion’s exclusive circle when Paris-based Maison Martin Margiela announced the controversial designer as the house’s new creative director. In this role, Galliano will oversee all Margiela lines, including couture and both men’s and women’s ready-to-wear.
“Margiela is ready for a new charismatic creative soul,” Renzo Rosso, president of Only The Brave—the brand’s owner—announced. “John Galliano is one of the greatest, undisputed talents of all time. A unique, exceptional couturier for a Maison that always challenged and innovated the world of fashion. I look forward to his return to create that fashion dream that only he can create, and wish him to here find his new home.”
Support for Galliano extends deep into the fashion world. Along with Rosso, Kate Moss—who asked Galliano to design her wedding dress shortly after the incident—has stayed by his side. Anna Wintour, an early supporter of Galliano, initiated his temporary post with de la Renta. Kayne West and Project Runway’s Nina Garcia, among others, tweeted out support for the announcement. The majority of fashion’s top players seem to embrace giving the designer a second chance, even though the incident will never be fully forgotten.
“Those who have nothing against [Galliano] will be happy he’s back in the fashion world,” Joan Burstein, the founder of Browns Fashion in London, told WWD, “and those who aren’t happy won’t be happy. Browns wishes him happiness as well as great success and we will follow whatever he does with great interest.” The boutique store famously purchased Galliano’s entire collection upon his graduation from Central Saint Martins in 1984.
“I think this will revolutionize the brand,” Averyl Oates, the fashion director at Galeries Lafayette in Paris, also said. “Although controversial, there is no doubt that Galliano has a great energy and is an undisputed visionary. He has a wide repertoire even if he is better known for his theatrical flair, and no doubt they will find a way to bridge his style with the familiar signature deconstruction of the Margiela house.”
Professionally, the move is bold for Margiela—a brand that has a reputation for actively keeping its design team out of the public eye. Margiela’s founder, before his departure in 2008, was infamously known for refusing to be quoted, avoiding photographs, and referring to the collective “we” when referring to the designs. The models on the runway were almost always hidden.
On the other hand, Galliano had one of the most publicized fashion downfalls in recent history. And, he has never been one to shy away from grand presentations. His finale typically involved costumes such as pirates and astronauts and he consistently had a penchant for lavish period pieces on Dior’s runway. His aesthetic is a far cry from Margiela’s non-descript (and almost hidden) presence, though he has proven his ability to scale back and keep within a brand’s focus.
In his fifteen year stint at Dior, he never faltered in honoring the brand’s rich history, consistently re-inventing iconic pieces like the bar jacket each season with his own personal spin. When collaborating with Oscar de la Renta, the collection showed only subtle hints of classic Galliano, and even then they could have appeared in de la Renta’s designs without the alliance, as The Daily Beast reported last year.
It’s unclear whether or not Margiela will keep Galliano tightly within the guidelines of humble anonymity or allow him complete creative freedom to steer the brand into a new, more publicized era. The tide could shift either way. However, Galliano’s debut at (and return to) Paris Couture Week in January will undoubtedly be a much-anticipated show, if only to gauge his—and the brand’s—future. As one Twitter user commented, “I predict his work w [sic] Margiela will be more impassioned than ever. If Paula Deen can make a comeback so can he.”