Stop the Press

Jil San­der: Clean lines–but messy man­age­ment?

Hong Kong Tatler - - Features -

Three-and-a-half years have passed since that video of a drunken, anti- Semitic tirade in a Paris cafe cost John Galliano his job as cre­ative di­rec­tor at Dior and left his ca­reer in tat­ters. It was “the worst thing I have said in my life, but I didn’t mean it,” says the Bri­tish de­signer, who was found guilty, was fined for “pub­lic in­sults” and had his Lé­gion d’hon­neur re­voked. “I now re­alise I was so… dis­con­tent with my­self that I just said the most spite­ful thing I could.”

Galliano had lit­tle work dur­ing his years in the wilder­ness—just a cos­tume-de­sign com­mis­sion for a the­atre pro­duc­tion and a three-week stint work­ing for his friend Os­car de la Renta. “I very strongly felt that when peo­ple fall, you should try to lift them up,” re­marked De la Renta at the time. “I think ev­ery­one in life de­serves a sec­ond chance. I’m not sure about a third or fourth.” And Galliano now has his sec­ond chance, after Rus­sian fra­grance chain L’etoile ap­pointed him in May as cre­ative di­rec­tor, re­spon­si­ble for its L’etoile Se­lec­tion line of cos­met­ics.

“I had been won­der­ing when and where he would pop up again,” says Peter Mcneil, pro­fes­sor of de­sign his­tory at the Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, Syd­ney. “He’s clearly a great tal­ent and, like other great de­sign­ers, has the drive to rein­vent him­self, oth­er­wise he couldn’t sur­vive. The idea of re­demp­tion in fash­ion is fas­ci­nat­ing and I’m in­trigued to see if Galliano can make a gen­uine come­back. Fash­ion is an in­dus­try that con­stantly looks back—it’s no se­cret Galliano had ac­cess to the ar­chives at Dior—but it also re­lies on new blood, new voices and new per­spec­tives.”

Si­mon Lock, the Hong-kong based founder of The Lock Group, which or­gan­ises fash­ion weeks in Aus­tralia, Sin­ga­pore and Dubai, ar­gues that Galliano’s new job doesn’t rate as a come­back. He be­lieves the de­signer was poorly ad­vised in ac­cept­ing the role and says mar­ket­ing lip­stick is un­likely to re­veal the slight­est glim­mer of his ge­nius.

“Galliano has been applauded and cel­e­brated for cre­at­ing unique mo­ments in fash­ion, mo­ments that the in­dus­try lives for,” says Lock. “An ex­am­ple is his Chi­nese-in­spired col­lec­tions at Dior. The the­atri­cal way he ex­pressed the themes be­hind his col­lec­tion was in­cred­i­ble and re­sulted in huge suc­cess, both at the cou­ture and ready-to-wear lev­els.”

Although his­tor­i­cally other de­sign­ers have been caught up in scan­dal, Lock ar­gues Galliano’s sit­u­a­tion is unique. “Peo­ple can for­give an in­dis­cre­tion such as be­ing drunk or tak­ing drugs, or driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence. It’s in the pa­pers for a few months and then blows over. That’s not the sit­u­a­tion with Galliano. Peo­ple don’t for­give racism.”

One of fash­ion’s most dra­matic fig­ures, Yves Saint Lau­rent, proved most be­hav­iour is for­giv­able; his brand con­tin­ued to grow in pop­u­lar­ity de­spite nu­mer­ous per­sonal scan­dals. Hired by Christian Dior as a stu­dent, Saint Lau­rent was only 21 when he took over the house on the death of Dior in 1958. His first col­lec­tion re­port­edly had jour­nal­ists weep­ing with joy. So far, so chic. But by 1960, the tears had turned bit­ter, with clients cry­ing in hor­ror at his trousers for women and above-the-knee skirts. He was asked to leave and simultaneously con­scripted into the French army to serve dur­ing the Al­ge­rian War of In­de­pen­dence.

Saint Lau­rent suf­fered a ner­vous break­down while in the army, but once he re­cov­ered and re­turned home to Paris, he set up his own la­bel. In his sec­ond sea­son, Saint Lau­rent de­vel­oped the look he be­came fa­mous for—street chic: smoking jack­ets, sa­fari suits and peas­ant shirts—and con­tin­ued

de­sign­ing to great ac­claim. But his star waned again in 1971 when his campy 1940s-in­spired col­lec­tion was de­scribed as ugly and in bad taste. He banned crit­ics from sub­se­quent fash­ion shows and posed naked for a YSL cologne ad­vert.

One of the Parisian jet­set through the 1960s and ’70s, Saint Lau­rent was known for his wild ways. He was ac­cused of glam­or­is­ing drugs in 1971 when he launched the fra­grance Opium—but sales were ex­cel­lent. More dra­mas fol­lowed as he suf­fered anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion, and a con­tin­ued love-hate re­la­tion­ship with crit­ics. He even­tu­ally sold his brand in 1999 to Gucci and died in 2008 of brain can­cer at the age of 71. With his death, the world lost a man ac­knowl­edged as one of the great­est fash­ion de­sign­ers of the 20th cen­tury.

Saint Lau­rent’s tale is a wild one, but the most fa­mous come­back in the his­tory of fash­ion is Chanel,” says Mcneil. It’s hard to imag­ine a world with­out the lit­tle black dresses and over­sized pearls of Chanel, but the house closed its doors in 1939 when war was de­clared as the brand had run out of money. It wasn’t un­til 1953 that Coco Chanel, at the age of 71, had the means to open again—and her first col­lec­tion wasn’t a crit­i­cal suc­cess. But she per­se­vered and came back into favour dur­ing her third sea­son.

“She sur­vived many set­backs, but the myth of Chanel was so strong, par­tic­u­larly in the US,” says Mcneil. “She em­bod­ied the brand: she wore the clothes and she had an in­cred­i­ble allure.” After Chanel died in 1971, as­sis­tants car­ried on un­til Karl Lager­feld took the helm in 1983. To­day, the la­bel is worth US$7 bil­lion and Chanel No. 5 is the world’s best-sell­ing per­fume.

Another dar­ling of the fash­ion world is Marc Ja­cobs, a man who quadru­pled Louis Vuit­ton’s prof­its and trans­formed the lux­ury lug­gage re­tailer into a one of the most pow­er­ful fash­ion la­bels in the world. But Ja­cobs was almost booed off the cat­walk in 1993 over his grunge col­lec­tion for con­ser­va­tive sports­wear brand Perry El­lis. “Grunge is as dead as Ja­cobs,” wrote

renowned Vogue and In­ter­na­tional Her­ald Tri­bune jour­nal­ist Suzy Menkes. Ja­cobs was sub­se­quently sacked.

Just a year later, Ja­cobs launched his come­back col­lec­tion and per­suaded Linda Evan­ge­lista and Naomi Camp­bell to model it for free. Within three years, he’d landed one of fash­ion’s big­gest jobs, cre­ative di­rec­tor of Louis Vuit­ton, which had also bought a stake in his la­bel. He left Louis Vuit­ton last year to fo­cus on his own la­bel.

Un­like Ja­cobs, Jil San­der is a de­signer famed for her clean lines, and yet she has had a sur­pris­ingly jagged ca­reer path since she sold 75 per cent of the la­bel she founded in 1968 to Prada in 2000. She left after six months, re­port­edly due to ma­jor dis­agree­ments within the company. She re­turned to work there in 2003 but quit again in 2004. She then re­joined the firm in Fe­bru­ary 2012 but re­signed in Oc­to­ber last year, cit­ing per­sonal rea­sons.

“Ev­ery­one knew she was a de­signer of huge tal­ent,” says Lisa Arm­strong, fash­ion ed­i­tor of The Tele­graph in London. “The fash­ion in­dus­try is quite small, with rel­a­tively few great tal­ents who can also with­stand the pres­sures. So when some­one with ex­cep­tional tal­ent comes along, any er­rant be­hav­iour is bound to be granted some le­niency.”

Such tol­er­ance is ex­tended to mod­els as well as fash­ion de­sign­ers. Kate Moss rakes in a cool US$7 mil­lion a year de­spite (and pos­si­bly be­cause of ) her party life­style, while daily up­dates of Cara Delev­ingne’s wild nights out in London have done very lit­tle to dam­age her im­age as the face of the mo­ment.

“Fash­ion loves con­tro­versy,” says Arm­strong. “It can make a stodgy brand seem re­bel­lious and youth­ful, and fash­ion com­pa­nies are al­ways chas­ing youth. Fash­ion is partly in the en­ter­tain­ment business, so it’s in a con­stant dilemma: it needs to gen­er­ate head­lines, but of the right na­ture. What it usu­ally finds is that it can’t al­ways con­trol the news. But a de­gree of out­rage can get a name out there. Most peo­ple out­side Rus­sia hadn’t heard of L’etoile un­til they hired Galliano.”

When L’etoile in­tro­duced its new cre­ative di­rec­tor on a Moscow cat­walk, it de­scribed Galliano as a “cre­ative ge­nius.” The de­signer com­mented, “[This is] a re­ally ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity. I’m sure our col­lab­o­ra­tion will lead to the cre­ation of new and ex­cit­ing events. I be­lieve that the re­sults will be very beau­ti­ful and breathtaking.”

Lock re­mains scep­ti­cal. “I’d like to see Galliano come back to a ma­jor house, but it seems the in­dus­try has closed ranks and no one is pre­pared to give him an op­por­tu­nity,” he says. “It is go­ing to take a brave house to bring him in. On the other hand, the man is a mul­ti­mil­lion­aire, so he might not care.”

“FASH­ION LOVES CON­TRO­VERSY. IT CAN MAKE A STODGY BRAND SEEM RE­BEL­LIOUS AND YOUTH­FUL, AND FASH­ION COM­PA­NIES ARE AL­WAYS CHAS­ING YOUTH… A DE­GREE OF OUT­RAGE CAN GET A NAME OUT THERE”

CAT­WALK CON­TRO­VERSY OPEN­ING SPREAD: JOHN GALLIANO AR­RIVES AT A PARIS PO­LICE STA­TION FOL­LOW­ING HIS RACIST RANT IN FE­BUARY 2011; ABOVE: JOHN GALLIANO’S FI­NAL SHOW FOR DIOR IN JAN­UARY 2011 DUR­ING HAUTE COU­TURE FASH­ION WEEK

FRENCH FANCY FROM LEFT: YVES SAINT LAU­RENT IN 1960; A MODEL FROM YSL’S 1971 COL­LEC­TION, WHICH WAS PANNED BY CRIT­ICS

PEARLS OF WIS­DOM COCO CHANEL IN HER PARISIAN FLAT IN 1937

MAR­VEL­LOUS MARC SU­PER­MODEL CHRISTY TURLING­TON, MARC JA­COBS AND ANOTHER MODEL IN 1988

RUL­ING THE RUN­WAY MOD­ELS FROM MARC JA­COBS’ AC­CLAIMED AU­TUMN/ WIN­TER 2014 SHOW AT NEW YORK FASH­ION WEEK

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