Friday, March 11, 2011

How to Turn a Blind Eye

The fashion world has been abuzz lately with clamor regarding the ousting of John Galliano from the fashion helm Christian Dior. On Tuesday March 1st, only three days prior to the showing of Dior’s fall 2011 fashion show, John Galliano was officially dismissed as their head designer based on allegations and video footage of the couturier drunkenly slurring anti-Semitic and racist insults. Galliano has received an unprecedented amount of media attention as a result of these incidents, both negative and positive, scrutiny and support. Anti-Semitism has played a crucial role in fashion’s history both underlying and blatant. This resurfacing of the issue poses questions of whether our world’s tastemakers and fashion-elite are still pushing an “Aryan” standard of beauty or if the industry steps in when they see racial injustice.

Many of Galliano’s supporters rushed to his side to try to rebuild his now tarnished image. Vogue Italia’s editor in chief Franca Sozzani posted on the magazine’s website “I’m just as disgusted by these people who saw what state John was in and took advantage of the situation by trading on his name and notoriety.” She seems to flippantly suggest John to be not only a completely innocent man, and that the witnesses were acting in malice.

Patricia Field, a stylist and costume designer sent a mass e-mail to 500 blogs, media and friends in support of Galliano. She seemed dismissive of Galliano’s actions in a phone interview by saying “People in fashion, all they do is go and see John Galliano theater every season. That’s what he gives them. To me, this was the same.” She described his anti-Semitic slurs as “Farce” and said that Galliano was “acting out a character.” Something Galliano knows how to do all too well.

Galliano has also received a tremendous amount of flack for his outbursts, most notably, and controversially from his employer Christian Dior. The chief executive for the company, Sidney Toledano expressed the company’s opinion in a statement at the recent fall Dior show soon after the incidents. He honored Galliano’s work describing him as “brilliant” and possessing “remarkable creative talent.” However, Toledano didn’t hesitative to express the company’s unabashed distaste for Galliano’s actions as well, stating, “It has been deeply painful to see the Dior name associated with the disgraceful statements attributed to its designer…” making it clear to sever their ties to Galliano in fear of what the association could do for their company.

Further in Toledano’s statement, he claims that the company will now, more than ever need to re-commit itself to the core values of the House of Dior. “He [Christian Dior] believed in the importance of respect and in the capacity of this fundamental value not only to bring out the beauty in women, but also bring out the best in people.” Clearly a section of the Dior handbook John Galliano overlooked when he was appointed a design successor of Christian Dior.

This whole uproar regarding anti-Semitism in fashion resurges memories of France’s fashion history over the last century and it’s scary ties to fascism. Prior to the Second World War, France’s fashion industry was responsible for a major portion of its economy and Paris was the world’s fashion capitol. During the Nazi occupation between 1940-1945 Paris’ fashion exports to great Brittan and United States dwindled and they only were only allowed to export to Germany, Italy and Spain.

In an effort to eliminate the “Jewish influence” in the French Economy, the Nazi’s underwent an upheaval of the labour market. Under the Vichy regime, Jews were officially barred from owning businesses. Companies, many of which, primarily Jewish, were “Aryanized” terminating all their Jewish employees. One person who took part these efforts was Coco Chanel who had very close ties with the Nazis. Years earlier, she had sold her fragrance business to a Jewish businessman and now saw the chance to unfairly regain it. He beat her to the punch by cleverly giving control of the company to a trusted “Aryan” associate of his.

The Nazi’s censored the content of French magazines such as vogue and limited their production. They also asserted an effort to limit what women could and could not wear. They wanted women to adhere to their fascist ideology by straying from masculine clothing such as pants and structured silhouettes.

When looking at today’s beauty standards in the fashion industry, they aren’t so different from the Nazi’s ideology for an “Aryan” race, blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin, and a slender muscular body, sounds quite a lot like the “All-American” image we are constantly bombarded with on the cover of fashion magazines and in runway shows.

When something as terrible as an artist, revered for his creativity and innovation falls from grace because of many drunken, yet loaded racial slurs the world is shocked, but for good reason? The signs of a racially charged history are still prevalent in the current fashion industry. Attitudes of segregation and discrimination have not completely disappeared; more times than not the issues at hand are swept under the rug and fashion’s elite turn a heavily made-up, long lashed blind eye.

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