Thursday, March 10, 2011

When the Spotlight Shines

For people in the public eye how do your actions represent who you are?

The renowned house of Christian Dior has been making headlines and not just for the recent Fall/Winter 2011 collection, but for Dior’s most celebrated designer and creative director, John Galliano. After an altercation with a women and a man in a restaurant, who called the police and a video of Galliano making anti-Semitic slurs in a Paris bar on February 24th, the designer is faced with a trial for his offenses. Under French law, provoking any form of racial hatred is considered a criminal offense and anyone found guilty could face jail time and possible fines.

Since Galliano started in 1996, the house of Christian Dior has seen tremendous change as the designer’s vivid imagination and whimsical ways took the brand to a multimillion-dollar ranking. Despite John Galliano being thought of as synonymous with the Dior brand, CEO Sidney Toledano decided to suspend the designer and soon afterwards it was announced that he was fired. The New York Times article, Galliano Case Tests Dior Brand’s Future from March 1st, quoted Toledano saying, “[that] he condemned the words and conduct of Mr. Galliano, “which are in total contradiction to the longstanding core values of Christian Dior.”

The recent media attention from around the world has created much discussion on the fate of the legendary haute couture fashion house. In addition to the lead designer and creative director of Dior, Galliano also has his own line of couture. LVMH Mo√ęt Hennessy Louis Vuitton owns Dior amongst other fashion houses of the same caliber, such as Celine and Louis Vuitton. Dior has a 60-year history to uphold with French fashion, as it remains a huge aspect of French culture and way of life.

Recent Oscar award winning actress Natalie Portman, has been a huge admirer of Galliano’s work and for the Oscars she was planning on wearing a dress by him. Having heard the allegations against the designer shortly before Hollywood’s biggest night, Portman chose not to support him and wore a dress by Rodarte instead. Dior’s brand of perfume, Miss Dior Cherie is represented by Portman and as a result of the recent uproar caused by Galliano’s behaviour; Portman publicly announced her disappointment with the designer. In The New York Times article from March 1st, Portman stated, “I am deeply shocked and disgusted by the video of John Galliano’s comments that surfaced today. In light of this video, and as an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way.”

For many designers having celebrities and public figures admire and respect their creations, as they often are seen in the spotlight showcasing their outfit and commending the designer for their astounding garments, is a form of publicity. The individual wearing the garment, is essentially representing the brand, in turn rewarding the designer for choosing to dress him or her. The commitment to a particular designer on the part of someone in the public eye often results in that individual being associated with appreciating that designer’s work over the competitions. The star of Gossip Girl, Blake Lively has been a devotee of Chanel and mutually speaking, Karl Lagerfeld has favoured this bright, young star, as she recently has been chosen to represent the “Mademoiselle” handbag line for the Chanel house.

While Galliano’s actions may be considered an isolated incident, there have been similar issues in the past that impact the moral and ethical obligations of a company subject to possible public scrutiny. Checkered Past, an article by the National Post reveals that German fashion powerhouse, Hugo Boss A.G. which at the time was a family-owned textile factory of uniforms, “became the official supplier of Nazi uniforms in 1933 and continued manufacturing throughout the war using forced labour from France and Poland.” The company came clean of its association with the Nazi administration and “Boss’s own son Siegfried confirmed his father’s membership in the Nazi Party.” While some may feel disgusted and choose to not support the brand, the company did own up to the truth.

From a public relations standpoint, the house of Dior handled the circumstance in a respectable way. Despite Portman’s feelings on Galliano’s inappropriate outburst, the company has to look past this and move on. Fashion Director of The Daily Telegraph, Hilary Alexander, felt that this will impact Galliano the most, and for Dior she feels that it will go back to “business as usual, [as] the show must go on.”

Jean Paul Gaultier, a man accustomed to the pressure and scrutiny of being a well-known fashion designer, defended Galliano. The article from WGSN, Galliano and Dior Shows go Ahead with Absent Designer, Own Label to Continue for now, Gaultier Defends Galliano, quoted Gaultier stating, “he is clearly not a racist. Everything he has done has not revealed someone who is racist, quite to the contrary, referring to the design inspiration he has drawn from widespread geographies and cultures.” He also seemed skeptical of the context in which the recordings of anti-Semitic slurs were taken.

Although, Galliano’s recent episode has got the fashion industry talking, there is an important underlying issue to address. The concept of corporate social responsibility relates directly to this, as the Dior house felt responsible for Galliano and thus fired him for his offenses. Many companies around the world make it a main priority to present themselves in a positive light and consequently hope to benefit society and provide a purpose to the consumers they are serving.

Specifically, Galliano’s scandal poses a number of questions, which ultimately reflects differently on every individual and also affects those consumers involved. Some may feel that this incident should be thought of as separate from his remarkable work, as fashion industry professionals, such as Jeanne Beker, described him as a fashion “genius and icon”. However, others such as Natalie Portman disrespect his recent behaviour and as a result will no longer choose to support him. Dior is one of the most prestigious houses in fashion and Galliano’s actions may impact consumer’s shopping choices. Being that Dior serves a niche market, individuals perhaps may take this episode personally, as John Galliano was a well-respected fashion designer who has made a mark on the fashion industry, as his elaborate collections speak for themselves.

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