Known for his wildly inventive designs, John Galliano struts out in an outrageous costume at the end of each runway show. That might not happen at Paris Fashion Week this year — the house of Dior has suspended Galliano as its creative director after he was accused of hurling an anti-Semitic insult during an alcohol-fueled spat at a Paris bar.
The designer vigorously denied wrongdoing on Friday and said the move was “totally disproportionate.” The suspension comes just a week before Dior’s fall-winter 2011-2012 ready-to-wear show on the catwalks of Paris.
In a terse statement, Christian Dior SA said the suspension would remain in effect pending an investigation into the altercation on Thursday night at La Perle, a trendy eatery in Paris’ Marais district.
Paris prosecutors said the British designer was questioned by police and released after a couple accused him of hurling an anti--Semitic slur at them. A police official said the designer also exchanged slaps with the couple.
The prosecutors and police, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, say Galliano’s blood -alcohol levels were excessive.
Fallout was swift.
Just hours after news of Galliano’s brief detention hit French Web sites, Dior CEO Sidney Toledano announced the suspension, saying: “The House of Dior confirms, with the greatest firmness, its policy of zero tolerance for any anti-Semitic or racist comments.”
Galliano’s lawyer, Stephane Zerbib, said the Gibraltar-born designer was “totally surprised” by the suspension.
“He never made an anti-Semitic remark in more than 10 years at Dior,” Zerbib said in a telephone interview. “He was insulted, and he responded to the insults.”
Under French law, making anti-Semitic remarks can be punishable by up to six months in prison. Public figures in France have been convicted for anti-Semitic remarks in the past, but are usually given only suspended sentences.
Asked about the allegations, Donatella Versace told Italian reporters before her show in Milan that the Galliano she knows “isn’t like that.”
“Racism is horrible and I condemn it, but I don’t think Galliano was thinking about it,” Versace was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency ANSA. “He is a good person, and very serious. He is a great creator who has given a lot and has a lot more to give, but that does not justify any type of racism.”
Widely regarded as one of the most brilliant designers of his generation, Galliano has long seemed like something of a sacred cow in an industry where turnover tends to be quick and designer hirings and firings happen in the blink of an eye.
Since his appointment in 1996, Galliano has made an indelible mark on the storied House of Dior. Season after season, he reinterpreted the iconic New Look pieces pioneered by founder Christian Dior, managing to make the designs first fielded after World War II fresh and youthful.
Galliano’s unforgettable collections of seasons past have channeled inspirations including ancient Egypt, with models in Nefertiti eye makeup and Tutankhamun beards; Masai tribespeople accessorized with rows of beaded necklaces and crop-brandishing equestrians of the 19th century.
Galliano “modernized Dior and made it more youthful than any of his predecessors. At times his clothes have been confounding ... and at times have been so extraordinarily sexy that it made you wonder how the brand continued to dress France’s first ladies and high society,” said Dana Thomas, a former fashion writer for Newsweek in Paris and author an expose of the luxury industry.