Galliano’s Presence at de la Renta May Be First Step in His Return

February 14th, 2013

Stephanie Colgan for The New York Times

Oscar de la Renta’s fall 2013 line had the touch of John Galliano, who was undone by anti-Semitic remarks. 

The disgraced fashion designer John Galliano was nowhere to be seen at Oscar de la Renta’s fashion show on Tuesday night, though the luminaries in attendance, including Anna Wintour, Valentino and Diane von Furstenberg, were certainly aware of his presence, as were the paparazzi lined up three deep on the sidewalk 25 floors below on West 42nd Street.

The startling designs that made their way down the runway were the clearest sign yet that Mr. Galliano, who was dismissed from the house of Dior in 2011 after a drunken anti-Semitic tirade at a Paris cafe but who has been sitting in as a guest in Mr. de la Renta’s studio for the past month, may be contemplating a professional comeback.

If so, it will have been carefully orchestrated over the past year by some of Mr. Galliano’s chief supporters in the fashion industry, most notably his close friends Ms. Wintour and Jonathan Newhouse, the chairman of Cond? Nast International, who have approached Jewish leaders, including rabbis and the Anti-Defamation League, on his behalf.

Their endorsements have made possible the return of a designer who some thought would never find work again after a video surfaced showing Mr. Galliano taunting other patrons with comments that included “I love Hitler.”

His surprise involvement in the design of Mr. de la Renta’s fall 2013 collection has led to enormous curiosity in the insular world of fashion about a future for Mr. Galliano, but it has also raised questions as to whether the public is ready to forgive someone who was convicted by the French courts of making anti-Semitic remarks. On Wednesday, The New York Post published on its cover a photograph of Mr. Galliano wearing a designer outfit that the newspaper characterized as bearing a resemblance to Hasidic attire.

Several Jewish customers and retailers have also protested privately to Mr. de la Renta, including Sandy Schreier, one of the world’s biggest collectors of couture fashion, who said she was initially horrified when she heard that Mr. Galliano would be working there, even in a vague capacity, though she has since softened her position.

“I assumed if he was coming there, he was not coming there to have cookies,” Ms. Schreier said in a phone interview from her home in Southfield, Mich. “As a Jew, I felt very upset about it.”

Even as Mr. Galliano’s involvement in Mr. de la Renta’s fall collection caused offense to some customers and sparked outrage among others who perceived his rehabilitation to be insincere, several editors are now publicly endorsing the return of a designer they believe to be among the greatest talents of the past 20 years. Ms. Wintour, Vogue’s editor, and Grace Coddington, its creative director, have met privately with him to express their support, as have other editors who have known the English designer since he started a label in London in the late 1980s. On Wednesday, Ms. Wintour declined to comment.

Mr. Newhouse, of Cond? Nast, has helped Mr. Galliano with contacts among religious leaders over the past two years, including Rabbi Barry Marcus of the Central Synagogue in London and Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of Britain. Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said on Wednesday that he had met with Mr. Galliano on at least five occasions and that he believed the designer was sincere in his apologies.

“He was punished because of what he said, and I think deservedly so,” Mr. Foxman said. “But if he’s punished for the rest of his life, he will become an anti-Semite.”

Mr. Galliano has also said he is seeking treatment for alcoholism, and he has told friends that he has no memory of the 2011 outburst. Mr. Newhouse said Mr. Galliano had told him he was appalled by his own behavior.

“He has straightened out his life in every way and is taking his life in a new direction,” Mr. Newhouse said. “I hope people can see that and give him another chance.”

In January, Ms. Wintour asked Mr. de la Renta to invite Mr. Galliano to take up a temporary residency in his New York studio, and Mr. de la Renta said he immediately agreed. The designers have a shared history of working in Paris at the same time, when Mr. de la Renta designed for Balmain.

While Mr. Galliano, 52, was purposefully kept out of public view in the designer’s studio (only a few beauty editors spotted him there during a recent fragrance unveiling), his involvement has led to speculation about his future, including as a possible successor to Mr. de la Renta, who is 80. Mr. de la Renta, who has acknowledged that he was treated for cancer and is recovering, has given no indication of his intention to retire, but he has not ruled out asking Mr. Galliano to stay.

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