x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Designer John Galliano in the dock over antisemitic rant

Former Dior star blames alcohol for outburst when he subjected a couple to an alcohol-fuelled stream of antisemitic abuse but denies racism and says he was provoked.

The troubled designer John Galliano, a fallen star of haute couture, will stand trial in Paris today accused of subjecting a couple to an alcohol-fuelled stream of antisemitic abuse.

At a time when he should have been preparing to present new creations to next month's Paris fashion show, the 50-year-old couturier will instead be required to explain his actions during a dispute in La Perle, a bar in the city's fashionable Marais district.

If convicted of using insulting language based on religious affiliation, race or ethnicity, he could be sentenced to up to six months in prison or fined €22,500 (Dh118,324).

By his own admission, Mr Galliano behaved unacceptably in the incident that led to his arrest and also his dismissal as chief designer at the eminent fashion house Dior.

He blames his actions on addictions to alcohol and medication. However, he contests the criminal accusations, claiming to have acted out of character under severe provocation, and has publicly stressed his opposition to "prejudice, intolerance and discrimination".

Embarrassingly for Mr Galliano, his arrest on February 24 was quickly followed by claims of similarly offensive conduct on two previous occasions.

A woman came forward to allege that she, too, had suffered antisemitic abuse from him in October last year.

A video was then supplied to a French citizen journalism website showing Mr Galliano making antisemitic comments to a group of Italian women two months later. That incident also occurred in the bar where he allegedly insulted the couple in February.

The film showed him telling the women, while in an apparently drunken state: "I love Hitler … People like you would be dead. Your mothers, your forefathers, would all be ******* gassed."

In the incident leading to Mr Galliano's arrest, he is alleged to have told Géraldine Bloch, a curator at the Paris Institute of the Arab World: "Dirty Jew, you should be dead."

It was subsequently reported that Ms Bloch, who was accompanied by a male friend, is not Jewish. Her companion, Philippe Virgiti, told the French media he believes the designer was ill rather than racist.

Some newspapers have also recalled past comments in which Mr Galliano, who was born in Gibraltar and brought up in London as a Roman Catholic, expressed pride in his 19th-century Jewish roots.

In a statement issued a few days after his arrest, Mr Galliano said: "I completely deny the claims made against me … a number of independent witnesses have given evidence and have told the police that I was subjected to verbal harassment and an unprovoked assault when an individual tried to hit me with a chair having taken violent exception to my look and my clothing. For these reasons I have commenced proceedings for defamation and the threats made against me."

The statement's emphasis then became apologetic: "However, I fully accept that the accusations made against me have greatly shocked and upset people.

"I must take responsibility for the circumstances in which I found myself and for allowing myself to be seen to be behaving in the worst possible light. I only have myself to blame and I know that I must face up to my own failures and that I must work hard to gain people's understanding and compassion."

Mr Galliano's lawyer, Aurelien Hamelle, said the designer had devoted his time since his arrest to treatment for his addictions and would not consider his professional future until after the trial.

Contradictory accounts of the incidents involving Mr Galliano are expected to be heard by the court.

Mr Hamelle said the varying testimonies pointed to doubt about what was said, while the designer himself did not remember "because he was in an altered state".

foreign.desk@thenational.ae