John Galliano’s Parsons class has been called off by the university. According to a letter signed by New School dean Joel Towers, president David E. Van Zandt, and provost Tim Marshall, the nature of Galliano’s discussion with students — about his dismissal from Dior and the events that led to it — could not be agreed upon. The letter states this: “It was a condition of our agreeing to host Mr. Galliano that we also hold a larger forum, which would include a frank discussion of his career. Ultimately, an agreement could not be reached with Mr. Galliano regarding the details of that forum, and so the program will not move forward.”
Of course other factors could very well have played into Parsons’ decision. Many were opposed to the appointment (a petition against him teaching there launched by students accrued more than 2,000 signatures). But to the school’s statement, Galliano’s lack of transparency about his scandal and tranformed self are exactly why he’s having a hard time getting fully back to work. Because as long as thousands of people oppose him, he’s never going to be trusted to sell fashion to thousands of people.
That the seminar was planned at all seemed like evidence that Galliano was well on his way to the comeback the fashion industry has been greatly anticipating. Even directly following his dismissal, the pain of his “I love Hitler” declaration fresh in the minds of many, the fashion industry’s most influential players expressed support for Galliano. And though the New School’s Jewish student group opposed Galliano’s class — about emotion in fashion design — the Anti-Defamation League was enthusiastic about the appointment. (Other Jewish leaders expressed indifference to Galliano’s career moves, citing more pressing issues in the Middle East.) But even with the support of the ADL, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, Condé Nast, and esteemed Parsons educators — plus a new job in the studio of the revered Oscar de la Renta — Galliano’s comeback just refuses to gel. But why?
Fashion is ripe for comebacks. This is an industry that just loves to scoop up a fallen star or shattered soul: Kate Moss not only returned to work after damning photos of her snorting cocaine hit British tabloid covers, but went on to launch a wildly successful Topshop line and double her salary; when Lindsay Lohan couldn’t get any acting work, the house of Emanuel Ungaro hired her as creative director; Naomi Campbell only became a bigger badass after each report of her projectile cell phones surfaced in the papers. And those people aside, the industry makes no secret of idolizing troubled stars: Karl Lagerfeld made Amy Winehouse the muse of his 2007 Metiers d’Arts Chanel collection, sending models down the runway in a glamorized version of her trademark eyeliner and beehive. At the time, evidence suggested that Winehouse wasn’t exactly the picture of health.
So, with the industry largely on his side and its precedents in his favor, where is John Galliano now? Where’s the grand comeback you would think is long overdue? Well, a few big things stand between him and his return to glory:
1. There’s nothing relatable about him or his offenses. A lot of people try drugs. Even President Obama has admitted to trying cocaine. There’s something relatable about indulging one’s impulse to use an illegal substance. But most people probably don’t have a hard time refraining from saying, “I love Hitler,” even if provoked by an unruly bar patron.
2. He’s been nothing but a Page Six shadow figure since Dior fired him. Rather than come out in a cover story, People magazine–style, to explain what happened and how everything’s different now, all we’ve gotten are official statements of apology here and there. We need something bigger — a good 60 Minutes segment, or at least an interview in Vogue (a magazine which I’m pretty sure hasn’t acknowledged his scandal at all, which is just bizarre). The public needs to hear Galliano himself discuss what happened like a normal person, because as his personal style and entire persona have suggested over the course of his career, he is an otherworldly individual of extreme creativity, which puts him on a different strata than 99.999% of the population. We need to see a glimmer of his humanity and normalcy.
3. The ADL and Galliano are being cagey about what the designer has done to learn about Judaism and atone for his mistakes. The ADL is known to have “rehabbed” Galliano, after being connected to him by Anna Wintour and Condé Nast. The organization’s national director Abraham Foxman told BuzzFeed Fashion recently in a statement: “John Galliano has met with ADL on numerous occasions. He has expressed remorse for his actions [and] made a clear and unequivocal apology for his words. He has met with rabbis and Holocaust scholars and has gone on an intellectual and moral pilgrimage to learn from his past mistakes. He has also offered to do volunteer work with fashion schools in Israel.” But beyond official statements, the public hasn’t seen Galliano doing this work. Well, why is his involvement with the ADL such a hush-hush operation? Parsons’ Jewish Student Union President Jennifer Kaplan told BuzzFeed Fashion she felt like neither the ADL nor Galliano had given her organization proper proof of his moral retribution. Questioning his sentiments seems valid when the public has been assured of them only in canned statements. (When I interviewed Foxman following the announcement about the Parsons class, he said he and Galliano are “friends” but declined to go into specifics about their relationship.)
In an era when we know everything about everybody thanks to social media, for a public figure like Galliano to maintain such privacy and communicate to the public only via statements can’t help but create distrust. He was noticeably absent from Oscar de la Renta’s runway show in February, though his influence was evident in the clothes themselves. Often after scandals, people return to the public spotlight eventually, compelled by a mission to govern or create or inspire. If Galliano wants to bounce back, he’ll have to start taking his image into his own hands. At the very least, he’ll have to prove he can carry on a gaffe-free conversation with a reporter.
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