John Galliano’s First Big Interview since his fall (OMG! OMG!) for alleged anti-Semitic remarks uttered while under the influence is in this month’s Vanity Fair, so like everyone else off I went to the newsstand to get it asap.
To be honest, for anyone who knows fashion even a little bit, it’s not that revealing (his statement that it was his first sober interview echoes Kate Moss’s long-ago revelation that she never walked the runway sober) – except for its inadvertent airing of two buried fashion world realities. To be specific: the absolute and increasing ahistoricism of the industry, and its uncomfortable relationship to Judaism.
One of Ingrid Sischy’s points, for example, is that Mr Galliano has, over his last two years of silence, been educating himself about the Holocaust. The idea that anyone growing up in western Europe could reach the age of 50 and claim to not know about the Holocaust strikes me as extraordinary, but that anyone working in fashion would not know this is particularly weird.
I mean, from the garment district through designers like Marc Jacobs and Diane von Furstenberg (President of the CFDA), fashion is full of Jews. Mr Galliano’s ex-boss, Sidney Toledano, is Jewish. And yet, almost every spring/summer season, shows fall on either Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah, and the powers that be shrug.
I understand that religion is personal, but still. If this happened on Easter, my guess is…well, it wouldn’t. I think it’s wrong, and not just because I am Jewish too; it simply isn’t respectful of a chunk of the population. I’m not sure why there is such a fraught relationship here, but I do think that if fashion had been less covert about its roots, Mr Galliano might have known more. And maybe he would have learned his history sooner, and in less damaging a fashion.
History, after all, is not just inspiration, it is content and meaning. Fashion, in its constant and desperate search for inspiration in decades and public figures past (any decade, any person), driven by the constant need to produce stuff, tends to forget this; the result is they denude the origin of its import, and focus on the look.
This was the case with Mr Galliano’s “hobo” collection inspired by the homeless along the Seine, it probably informed his use of the Holocaust as a by-the-by slur, and it echoed an experience I recently had when judging a collection by students at the Royal College of Art: one piece, its designer revealed, had been inspired by the Ayatollah Khomeini.
“Really?” the jury asked, wondering why such a controversial Islamic leader would have inspired a menswear designer. The answer, it transpired, was the young man liked the Ayatollah’s look. It was pretty clear he didn’t know any of his history. And I couldn’t help but think that form without content may be a very slippery slope indeed.