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PARIS (Reuters) - Christian Dior suspended its star fashion designer John Galliano on Friday pending an inquiry into accusations he hurled racist remarks at a couple in a Paris bar.
About a week before Galliano was due to present Dior's collection in Paris, police were called to a bar in the city's trendy Marais district on Thursday evening where they found the designer doling out a drunken torrent of abuse to a couple, a police source told Reuters.
Galliano's lawyer Stephane Zerbib said two complaints had been filed with police against his client for making racist or anti-Semitic comments -- a crime in France -- but he said Galliano "firmly and formally" denied doing so.
"Dior affirms with the utmost conviction its policy of zero tolerance toward any anti-Semitic or racist words or behavior," Dior Chief Executive Sidney Toledano said.
"Pending the results of the inquiry, Christian Dior has suspended John Galliano from his responsibilities," the fashion house, part of billionaire Bernard Arnault's LVMH luxury empire, added in a statement.
The British designer was out at a no-frills drinking spot popular with wannabe models when the incident took place.
He was taken to a police station for a sobriety test, which confirmed he had been drinking, but was released without being charged and police escorted him home, the police source said.
Christian Dior, which hired Galliano as its top talent more than a decade ago, is due to present its autumn-winter collection on the Paris catwalks next Friday, March 4.
Galliano's pret-a-porter show is one of the most highly anticipated events of fashion week in Paris, which runs from March 1 to 9, and Dior shows consistently receive favorable reviews from both clients and the fashion press.
Jean-Pierre Mocho, head of the French Women's Ready-to-wear Federation, said there has been no indication that Dior wanted to part ways with its star designer before its Friday statement.
"I have never heard that it was time for them to change the style or that Galliano should leave," he said.
A spokeswoman for Dior declined to comment on whether the show would go ahead.
Galliano's lawyer called Dior's reaction "extremely excessive" and said his client might file a defamation charge against the couple in the bar.
"You walk into a bar, you run into a stranger, you somehow figure out whether he is Jewish, Protestant or Catholic and you start hurling insults at them? It seems improbable to me," Zerbib said, adding that the charges "do not stand up."
French daily Le Figaro published a detailed account of the incident, complete with offensive quotes, but did not name its sources.