LONDON, United Kingdom — The fashion world found itself divided this week as Maison Martin Margiela, along with the brand's owner, the Italian billionaire Renzo Rosso, announced that it had appointed John Galliano to the role of creative director. While the response on social media to Mr Galliano's return — and indeed here in the comments on BoF — was generally positive, for many fashion insiders the case wasn't nearly so clear cut.
Understandably, some of the reaction was knee-jerk and emotional. For much of the fashion media, especially those who have known Mr Galliano all the way from his early days as a fledgling designer in London to his ascension to the post of creative director of Christian Dior, the reaction was decidedly less ecstatic.
How can the industry embrace Galliano once again when he flamed out in such a disgusting way, several editors wondered publicly and privately. Jess Cartner-Morley addressed the issue head-on in a piece for the Guardian, while another editor told me privately that she felt like she "might vomit" if the industry gives Galliano a standing ovation at his debut show for Margiela during the January haute couture shows.
I decided to go back to the original video of an inebriated Galliano, which played out over and over again in the wake of the scandal back in 2011. Watching it now, I understand those feelings. But I also watched Galliano's measured but honest interview with Charlie Rose, admitting his faults and apologising for his actions. Afterwards, I was still not sure where I stood.
I had the opportunity to interview John Galliano in January 2011 — just weeks before the flame out — and felt that he was really operating on a different plane of reality, because for so long he had been cloistered off into a strange protective bubble. Sometimes, we isolate (and elevate) talented creatives so much in the fashion industry that they lose connection with reality. The fame, the adulation, the ability to do no wrong — for the most sensitive and creative amongst us, these can provide dangerous approbation for ridiculous and sometimes extreme behaviour.
I don't question the decision to give Mr Galliano a second chance. But, perhaps the best way to make this transition, for both Mr Galliano and for Maison Martin Margiela, would have been not to make a big announcement, not to trumpet his return and not to fall back into a cycle where Mr Galliano can do no wrong, scrubbing away a series of events that are still so hard to comprehend, even today. Imagine if, at the end of the couture show in January, nobody came out to take a bow (in the longstanding tradition of the house of Margiela) and Galliano's talent was allowed to speak for itself.
Perhaps that would have been a better moment to announce the arrival of a new creative director (assuming it could have been kept a secret, something that Margiela has been very good at doing for all these years). Focusing on his collection might have reminded the industry why they fell in love with Galliano in the first place. And while they may not have forgotten the events that played out in that Parisian bar, they would have forgiven him for his mistakes and focused on the talent that got him here in the first place.
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