john galliano opens up about sobriety and the speed of today's fashion cycle
The physical and emotional toll that the speeding wheels of the fashion system has on designers, driving both Alber Elbaz and Raf Simons away from two of the top French fashion houses in recent months, has become a topic of heated debate. But preceding this latest round of musical chairs was John Galliano leaving Dior (and the entire industry) on rather different terms. Five years ago, following a drunken, anti-semitic outburst in a Paris bar, a disgraced Galliano went into exhile. After a three-year long and often lonely road to sobriety and self-acceptance, the (in)famous designer was appointed to the head of the famously enigmatic Maison Martin Margiela. Now Galliano opens up about how being sober — and not suffocated by workload — has changed his creative approach.
Sipping tea amidst his vast collection of flea market trinkets with WWD, Galliano thanks an insider support system that includes Anna Wintour, Jonathan Newhouse, and the late Oscar de la Renta for having faith in him "when one had maybe lost faith in humankind." Though he no longer needs alcohol to get through the day — "I'm somewhere else now; I don't need that" — he concedes that the addiction is constantly on his mind. "I won't say the desire or temptation ever goes away. It's a disease," he stresses. "The minute I thought that it would go away, I'd be in trouble. I'd have to run to a meeting. It's that daily [process], it's a daily reprieve."
These days, four years after not being able to do so much as pick up a pencil — "It was too painful for me" — the flamboyant icon spends his time visiting the countryside and relearning the art of communication. "I just found it very difficult," he says of his total inability to even speak to (unspecified) people moving within his circles. "I would have to be in a certain state to be in a room with some people... Under the influence of whatever. I was full of fear."
"I'm not sure how it happened," he says of eventually meeting with Mr. Martin Margiela, surmising that Renzo Russo must have played matchmaker. "He came to my house. I think he arrived at about three and left at nine, and it was just the most magical — just to hear him speak of his love of 17th-century poetry or costuming. Who would have known! Or understanding kitsch and the L.A. side. I didn't have to ask any questions. It was God-sent! As he left, I said, 'Let's stay in touch.' He said, 'You might not hear from me for a while.' We do converse. He does reply. I give him an update with what we're doing. He's always concerned with my health. He's really nice, a gentleman, no?"
So what are Galliano's thoughts on the breakneck cycle of the fashion calendar today? "It's something I'm very passionate about," emphasizes the designer. "We are all creating this desire with social media. It's wonderful, but it's kind of taken us over a little bit… at Maison Margiela, we will find a way of rising to this challenge. There is not a formula. There's nothing to say a part of the collection can't be bought [early] if I could get my hands on the fabrics in time. That's our life today, and I am connected to that."
Text Hannah Ongley
Photography Sean Ellis [Dal i-D No. 199, The Heartbeat Issue, July 2000]