In fashion, global statements

John Galliano, one of Christian Dior's top designers, has been fired by the French fashion house after a video featured him proclaiming, "I love Hitler."

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Designer John Galliano delivers a drunken, anti-Semitic rant. Vogue magazine runs a puffy profile of Syria's first lady, Asma al-Assad. The common denominator? Blistering condemnation and outrage - evidence of fashion's increasingly global reach to a wider, more politically sensitive audience.

Oscar winner Natalie Portman, the face of Dior perfume, said Monday she was "deeply shocked and disgusted" and condemned the designer: "As an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way." Foreign Policy called the Vogue article "spectacularly ill-timed, appearing just as pro-democracy uprisings were roiling the illiberal autocracies of the Arab world."

Even a brilliant designer and the world's most influential fashion bible don't get a pass.

After 16 years at the helm, Galliano was quickly fired by Dior on Tuesday, just hours after a damning video emerged where the designer professed his love for Hitler. (Life imitates art: Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's character Bruno crashed New York's Fashion Week and proposed a solution to the unfashionable: "Why don't you just put them on trains, send them to a camp and say, 'Bye-bye?' " he said. "I would love to," answered the unsuspecting fashionista.)

But Italian Vogue editor in chief Franca Sozzani lamented Galliano's loss: "While I condemn John's words . . . I am frightened by how quick these young people [the restaurant patrons who took the cellphone video] were to try to gain notoriety or money while destroying the image of a genius."

The Dior scandal came a week after Vogue's profile of Syria's first lady, who is described as glamorous, young and very chic - "a rose in the desert." The piece barely touches on her husband, whom many foreign-policy experts consider one of the most brutal dictators in the world. The article focuses more on the charming aspects of the country: "Christian Louboutin comes to buy the damask silk brocade they've been making here since the Middle Ages for his shoes and bags."

Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch, told us it was "irresponsible to do a puff piece. If you're going to do a piece like this, you have to tell the whole truth: that her husband rules with an iron fist, that there's zero tolerance for dissent."

Johanna Cox, a Washington policy wonk and former fashion writer for Elle, said she was surprised by the Vogue profile ("It felt like an endorsement") and said it reinforces the stereotype of fashion as something frivolous, "which is unfair." She compared Galliano's fall to Mel Gibson - a beloved star until his darker side was exposed to the public. Galliano "is one of the greatest of all time. . . . We don't want to believe it because we respect the work so much." But, she added, fashion cannot function as an insular industry.

When asked for comment, Vogue released a statement to The Washington Post: "When the issue went to press, protests were just beginning in Tunisia, and the subsequent changes that swept the region happened too late to incorporate into our piece." The magazine said it has covered prominent women like Queen Rania and Benazir Bhutto. "Our interest in examining their lives is not an endorsement of the regimes they are linked to."

© 2011 The Washington Post Company

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