Even in his bigotry, Galliano was entirely on-trend

By Norman Lebrecht, March 3, 2011
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Christian Dior's dismissal of John Galliano was significant more for the responses it evoked than for the offence given by its addled head designer. Galliano, 50, was first accused of, then filmed, spewing antisemitic abuse at women in a restaurant in the Marais, a Paris district divided amicably between Jews and gays.

Dior, after the first accusation, did nothing. After the second, it suspended Galliano. Only when the Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman threatened to quit her modelling contract for Dior perfume did the maison de couture cut its ties decisively with the troubled British designer. Two days later, Galliano checked into rehab.

Thus far, the plot followed every predictable step of celebrity scandal. Fashion is a bubble which, like sections of rock music and conceptual art, cultivates transgression and excess and throws up its manicured hands in manufactured horror when the chief shock merchants cross an invisible line. Expectations were high that Galliano's new collection, due to premiere on Friday, would somehow redeem the naughty boy in the world's eyes.

The acting editor of the London Evening Standard, condemning Galliano's conduct, airily opined that his career could be saved if his good friend Kate Moss were to invite him to design her wedding dress. The editor of Women's Wear Daily compared her shock at his sacking to the suicide of fellow-designer Alexander McQueen. A London legal firm, acting for Galliano, announced that it was issuing defamation proceedings on his behalf.

The absence of any grip on the reality of Galliano's offence was almost universal even within the world of shlock and shop, where many of the best-known French labels, including Dior, are owned or managed by Jews.

Yet, for all the inelegance of its ostrich position, fashion for once served a wake-up call on the rest of society. Outbursts such as Galliano's do not sprout spontaneously. They are nurtured by a climate in which casual antisemitic utterances have become increasingly prevalent - indeed, acceptable, so long as they are couched within the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Jews are held to account as presumed extensions of Israeli occupation policy in a way that, for example, overseas Chinese are not held responsible for Beijing's occupation of Tibet. A Norwegian colleague was challenged on television to condemn Israeli policy before her views on social harmony could be heard. I, too, after discussing the cultural implications of the Galliano affair on BBC Breakfast was beset by emails demanding that I take a position on Gaza - as if one were related to the other.

This is new antisemitism, 2011-style. The requirement that Jews must in some way atone for Israeli deeds and misdeeds is the latest manifestation of two millennia of crucifixion guilt. It is a pervasive atmosphere and one that disinhibited a dress designer from allegedly extolling the extermination of Jews. Fashion did not know how to handle Galliano's rant. Will media respond any better to the next such assault?

    Last updated: 12:34pm, March 3 2011