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Darling of the fashion world makes an unlikely bigot

THE strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was metamorphosed into a modern-day drama in Paris last week as John Galliano, the once fabulously flamboyant haute couture designer for Dior, stood trial for making "public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity".

Looking thin and anxious, the man bore little resemblance to his former incarnation as outrageous darling of the fashion world and was barely audible when responding to the charges read against him. Galliano, who sat stone-faced through the seven-hour trial, claims to have no memory of the incident in Le Perle, a brasserie in Paris's Jewish quarter, being out of his mind on drink and drugs.

When the judge reminded him of his words that night -- such as repeating "dirty Jewish whore... at least 1,000 times", "I love Hitler", and criticising the appearance of Geraldine Bloch, a 35-year-old museum curator -- the multimillionaire designer pleaded: "I have an addiction. I am currently undergoing treatment."

Galliano declared that he had a triple addiction to alcohol, sleeping pills and Valium, and went straight into rehab in an Arizona clinic after the alleged event. While he says he cannot recall making the remarks, he apologised for them.

His lawyer protested: "We must not judge a man who for 30 years has been dedicated to diversity, who has been a loving person for all races, cultures and religions... based on 40 minutes where he was sick through alcohol and medication."

However, that is exactly what the law will do. In France, haunted by shameful memories of Vichy, the government which implemented the Nazi ideology during the Second World War, anti-Semitism is taken very seriously and punishable by prison and a fine.

In Galliano's case, the prosecutor is seeking damages of up to €5,000 for each plaintiff -- a total of €10,000. Some would argue that Galliano has already paid dearly for his transgressions. After the video of the evening went viral on the internet last February, Dior fired its star designer, and many of his celebrity friends publicly disowned him.

What are the reasons behind this spectacular descent into the abyss?

Galliano told the court that the work stresses he was under were severe. He referred to Dior as a "billion-dollar business" and a "money-making machine". For many years, he relied on the support of business partner and ex-boyfriend Steven Robinson, who acted as liaison between himself and the CEO of Dior, Sidney Toledano, who is recognised as the motor behind Dior's business success.

However, when Robinson passed away in 2007, Galliano was bereft. "Steven protected me from everything so I could be creative ... With his death I found I had no protection. When Steven died, I buried him and then went back to do my fittings."

There's no doubt that the work pressure Galliano was under was considerable. In the land where the 35-hour working week is supposed to be the norm, Galliano lived and breathed fashion with little personal time, even to grieve for a friend.

Indeed, it would seem the fashion business does not wait for anyone. Marion Cotillard, the 35-year-old French Oscar-winning actress, raised eyebrows recently when she returned to film a Dior advertising campaign less than two weeks after giving birth.

Yet work pressure and substance abuse considered, one of the most puzzling aspects of this affair is that John Galliano makes for an unlikely bigot. Openly gay since childhood, he has made reference to his own Jewish and multicultural roots in the past.

And in fact, rather than offending people, Galliano endeared those he worked with. Joan Buck, ex-editor of Vogue France, said she remembered business lunches during which he displayed "painfully respectable" behaviour... "he comported himself so well it gave me toothache".

Others close to Galliano don't believe he is capable of racial hatred. Eva Green, a French actress and former Dior model, has asserted: "I don't think he's anti-Semitic. I'm Jewish. I don't think he has anything against the Jews. I think it's more that he was probably a bit drunk."

Indeed, his lawyer affirmed last week that "Some things may have come out of his mouth that didn't come from his brain." Nonetheless, can he really be absolved of his sins by blaming drink and drugs?

It remains to be seen as to whether Galliano can rise from the mire. A ruling is expected in September. Since the event, sales for his fragrance and brand have dropped and he has proclaimed himself to be "sans profession".

Even if Galliano maintains he has no recollection of his comments, the public's memory is long and his road to redemption will no doubt be an arduous one.

Sunday Independent