Forgiveness is fashionable, says Mrs Burstein, founder of fashion mecca, Browns.
My favourite memory of John Galliano will forever be his graduate show. It was 1984 and, as befits its grand title of Les Incroyables, it was incredible – full of dramatic frills, pirate blouses and smashed magnifying glasses as jewellery. I was overwhelmed by the fearlessness, romance and sheer unique-ness. It was just so different from anything else I’d ever seen. As his club kid models took to the catwalk and Jeremy Healy DJ’d, the audience audibly gasped. You just knew that the show was passing into fashion folklore.
And, my God, I loved every piece. So I bought everything and put it in the windows of [my store] Browns within 24 hours of seeing the show. We sold the lot. Some might have thought it was a risk, but not me – if I think it’s right and it’s beautiful, I buy it. I don’t even ask the price. And with that collection – so wild and intoxicating – I was just so excited.
John never fails to transport you somewhere magical. And, whether it’s to the extravagance of Joséphine Bonaparte’s 18th-century quarters, or to heady, sepia-tinged Shanghai, you go willingly. Even his invitations told stories, such as a miniature pair of ballet shoes and a chamois leather map, hinting at the treasure of the show to come.
Beneath all of that flamboyance, however, he’s actually very shy. The ostentation is saved for his creations – be it fabulous bias-cut dresses or magnificent cotton ballgowns. He had a tough time at the beginning of his career, with no financial backing. It was only when socialite São Schlumberger allowed him to show in her apartment in Paris that he got the support again – so he never let anything go to his head. Even with all his accolades, he was always nervous about every collection. It’s one of the things I love most about him – his humility.
That’s why it was all the more shocking when I heard about what happened in Paris. It was a totally inexcusable thing to say – I’m Jewish myself – but I know his words didn’t reflect his true opinions. I’ve known him since the beginning and that is not the John I know. I can only put it down to one thing: addiction. This industry pushed him to do too much. Fashion isn’t a fairy story, it’s all about how much someone’s going to make and John has admitted he was a slave to success. He did so many collections per year, for Dior and his own label, and there was so much pressure, I think he needed drink and drugs to keep on top of it. You don’t know what could happen when you reach that final straw and you’ve had too much… another person can come out.
This industry pushed him to do too much.
I understand he’s better now, thankfully [Galliano is now two years sober, according to an interview with Vanity Fair in July]. And despite everything, I don’t consider the damage irreparable. Of course, there will be some who will continue to castigate him; to boycott his work. But what will that achieve? It’s important to forgive.
And the industry does need him back. It’s not been the same since he’s been exiled. Yes, there are still some incredible talents – Sarah Burton, Azzedine Alaïa, Meadham Kirchhoff – but John provided that unsurpassable drama. He is the consummate showman; a tour de force made for couture. He epitomises the escapist fantasy that fashion is all about. And it’s that we need so desperately. I’d welcome him back to Browns with open arms and I think others should too.
He’d need everyone’s encouragement though – the knowledge that fashion needs him to return. For John to re-establish himself, we all need to get behind him, from customers to journalists. Anna Wintour is hugely supportive and got him the job helping Oscar de la Renta with his last collection and now it’s being reported that he might stay on. It would be wonderful for him to get started again on that level.
The future for John is pinned on hope. But, whatever happens, I’d love the industry to remember him for his legendary talent and inspiration. In my 40-plus years in the industry, I’ve learned that some people are destined to transform the fashion landscape – John is one of these people.
My other most cherished memory is when he travelled to London for the first time on the Eurostar. ‘I couldn’t believe it!’ he told me. ‘We were in a tunnel, we came out and we were in England! It was AMAZING!’ That’s how he was – wonderfully naive and with a beautiful capacity for wonderment. That person still remains. And if we have to do without him for much longer, it would be a real tragedy.”