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As one of the fashion world’s most respected creative geniuses, John Galliano’s fall from grace sent shockwaves through the industry. Many wondered whether he could ever rise again. But he has.
We’ve come to London to meet John Galliano and his long-term boyfriend, the celebrity stylist Alexis Roche, has left us alone to talk, although he smiles anxiously as he closes the door to the hotel suite. Galliano, 55, hasn’t given an interview in years, but today he’s ready. The former Dior designer has a new job, and a new approach to life, at Maison Margiela, where he has been creative director for 18 months. The avant-garde Paris label is owned by the Italian billionaire Renzo Rosso, whose company OTB also owns the Diesel group. Dressed in a dark Prada suit, with his long hair falling over one eye, the most flamboyant thing about him today is his vintage gold cigarette case and lighter. Smoking is his last vice. He’s been sober for five years, ever since a video of him hurling anti-semitic abuse at customers in a Paris bar became public in 2011. That incident spectacularly crashed his career. Galliano was branded a bigot and banished from fashion. “Before, work was the most important thing in my life, not my health, which is insanity,” he says as we sip on water and green tea. The fact that he is sitting here, sober and happily talking about his role at Maison Margiela, where sales have risen 30 per cent since he took over, is a personal and professional triumph. Many believed he would never survive the shame of his downfall. The day Dior announced it had sacked him, March 1st, 2011, he checked himself into an Arizona rehab facility, where they took everything away from him. Afterwards, he continued his recuperation at his country house in France, emerging briefly in July 2011 to make Kate Moss’s wedding dress. It was the worst of times, which Galliano has said was a culmination of years of drink and drug abuse, aggravated by the pressure to create. He was a “slave” to his success, but admits his approach to work also has a self-destructive edge. “The creative process is all-consuming, and that’s something in me – one of my many character defects – that I have to keep in check.” He describes himself as almost going into a trance when in work mode. “When I’m fitting and draping, the house could burn down and I wouldn’t be aware. You can get to five o’clock in the morning and I’m still there.” These days, he strives for balance. “Friends ring me about 8pm and say, ‘Are you still there?’” he laughs. “The world is not going to stop spinning if you go home – but that’s how I used to think.” In his Dior pomp – when backstage at shows one assistant would hold his cigarettes, another his lighter – he’d become so cut off from reality that ordinary tasks were beyond him. “When I left my previous day job, I didn’t know how to write emails or use a mobile phone because everything was done for me.” Post Dior and post rehab, Galliano pursued his recovery from addiction with verve, even consulting Shaolin monks. “I wanted to learn to meditate,” he says. “I just needed to learn how to stop the voices in my head. And they said to me that the creative process was my form of meditation, so I’ve been meditating since I was at Saint Martin’s School of Art.” Part of his cure was to revisit his childhood. He was born Juan Carlos in Gibraltar on November 28, 1960, the middle child of three (he has two sisters). The family came to England in 1967, when he was six. His father, John Joseph, was a plumber and his mother, Anita, was a dinner lady. The family were devout Catholics and Galliano would sometimes serve as an altar boy. He attended a grammar school where he was bullied. He says he retreated into his imagination before finding his creative outlet at St Martin’s. But Galliano is a new man now. He now wakes early and hits the gym. “It keeps me in the present,” he says, “which is so important, because for so long I wasn’t.” Breakfast involves green tea, fruits of the season, and porridge with almond milk. He’s in the office early. “I now understand why people start work at 9am. That used to be when I was finishing,” he chuckles. The new Galliano spends his days doing fittings and researching, surrounded by his design team (many of whom worked with him at Dior) and lots of interns. “Before they were always in another room,” he says, referencing his hierarchical days at Dior. They’ve