Any battle against alcohol or drug addiction requires courage. Being forced to face one’s demons in the full glare of the media spotlight is, equally, by no means easy. And so John Galliano’s humility and honesty in the face of dreadful circumstances is admirable.
'When everyone came over to tell me that I had done these terrible things, I was walking round and round and round not really knowing what had gone down. My assistant told me about the video. When I saw it, I threw up. The feeling was like I was about to take a step out onto the street and a bus or truck whooshed past me and the blood was drained from my legs. I was paralysed with fear.'
That is how he describes the moment he discovered the consequences of his actions to Ingrid Sischy, a great writer and long-time contributor to Vanity Fair, where the designer’s first interview since leaving Dior in March 2011 will be published in full tomorrow.
As a gay man growing up at the heart of a Catholic family in South London in the 1970s, it’s fair to say that Galliano is capable of identifying with minority status. His by now infamous anti-Semitic outburst, then, was just that: an outburst and an aberration but those who know him continue to vouch for his humanity and for the fact that he was clearly – and literally – out of his mind at the time.
If, from the outside, life as a fashion designer appears enviable – certainly, it beats many less elevated and inspiring professions - it is also true that since the mid-Nineties, when the industry began its transformation into the corporate beast it is today, the existence of those responsible for creating clothes has changed beyond all recognition.
Galliano – at the heart of that change when he was appointed first at Givenchy and then Dior in 1996 – left behind the relatively protected and predominantly creative position he had enjoyed until then. He may, overnight, have enjoyed phenomenal power and wealth but there are those who might wonder: was it worth it? He, like many of his profession, is fragile, and his new life didn’t always make allowances for that.
For someone in Galliano’s position, and working in his world, to admit to his vulnerability is extraordinary. Of course he is privileged: for every John Galliano there are hundreds and thousands of men and women who aren’t lucky enough to be able to afford expensive treatment in private clinics in Arizona like he did and also many who will not survive.
Still, the designer has been ill and is brave to speak out. And that calls for compassion. Whether he will ever move back into the fashion industry remains to be seen – after everything he’s been through he may not even want to. But Galliano is paying for his mistakes, however grave they have been.