Stop the Press
Jil Sander: Clean lines–but messy management?
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