PARIS (Reuters) - British fashion designer John Galliano will stand trial on charges of making racist insults in public, allegations which cost him his job at Christian Dior and prompted him to apologize on Wednesday.
Dior is going ahead with its Paris Fashion Week show on Friday after firing Galliano for his “odious” behavior on a widely viewed video showing the former chief designer expressing admiration for Adolf Hitler.
French prosecutors said on Wednesday they had charged Galliano with making racist comments to three people, an offence that carries a sentence of up to six months in prison and a 22,500-euro ($31,240) fine.
The charges relate to two separate incidents, one on Thursday and the first in October.
The fallen star, who has worked for Dior since 1996, said in a statement anti-Semitism and racism “have no part in our society” and “unreservedly” apologized for causing any offence.
The video surfaced after accusations were made public and raced across the Internet. It shows Galliano in a bar wearing a grey hat and slurring anti-Semitic insults into the camera.
Galliano’s lawyer said during a television interview on Wednesday his client was not standing trial for the video.
“This video, nobody knows under which conditions it was made, if Mr Galliano was provoked or insulted before, nobody knows the context,” Stephane Zerbib said in an interview on France’s Canal Plus channel.
“We see a man who is alone, who is a victim of his demons, for which he is getting treatment... who obviously mixed alcohol and medication.”
The lawyer declined to say if Galliano had left France.
Several media reports on Wednesday said he had flown out to a rehabilitation center.
“He will say it in front of the court that he’s not a racist, that he’s not anti-Semitic, that he fights all forms of intolerance. He will repeat it every time he needs to,” Zerbib told Reuters TV.
It is uncertain when the video was taken, but Thursday’s incident involved a couple, who complained Galliano had verbally abused them with racist and anti-Semitic comments at La Perle bar in Paris’s hip Marais district.
The designer said a number of witnesses at the bar told police “he 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,” Galliano said in his statement on Wednesday.
Dior is one France’s top fashion brands and is part of LVMH, the world’s biggest luxury goods group.
Dior said it would go ahead with Galliano’s autumn-winter 2011 collection for the fashion house which helps buyers decide orders and is crucial for the brand’s image.
Some fashion insiders were weighing the implications of attending the show on Friday. The editor of a prominent U.S. fashion web site said he would not.
“I think a lot of people reacted with shock to this whole affair and they would, should and could boycott the show. I certainly will,” said one buyer from Chicago on the sidelines of Dries Van Noten’s fashion show, who asked not to be named.
A day after Galliano’s sacking, rumors swirled around his succession at Dior with many fashion industry insiders pointing to Riccardo Tisci, designer at Givenchy, another LVMH brand.
It was also not clear whether the fashion show of John Galliano’s own label would go ahead as planned on Sunday and the designer’s ousting raised questions about the future of his own fashion house, which is more than 90 percent owned by Dior.
“The exit scheme for Dior has not been decided yet,” one person close to the brand said, declining to be named.
The John Galliano brand is tiny in comparison to Dior. It has only one boutique in Paris, is distributed mainly through department stores and multi-brand stores and barely breaks even.
On Wednesday Galliano won a cyber-squatting case over the Internet domain name galliano.fr.
Fashion experts expect Dior will stop supporting the brand financially or may spin it off. The John Galliano press office declined to comment.
The saga has cast a pall over Paris Fashion Week — a bi-annual event for ready-to-wear collections that set the year’s trends across the industry.
Ready-to-wear catwalks are more important in terms of orders than the industry’s more exclusive haute couture shows. Axing Galliano’s show would seriously disrupt Dior’s operations as it would lose revenues from an entire collection.
Actress Natalie Portman, who was just about to start promoting Miss Dior Cherie perfume, voiced her disgust with Galliano late on Monday and said she wanted nothing more to do with him. Dior’s press office for perfume did not return calls.
Dior shares closed down 0.86 percent at 103.75 euros and LVMH closed down 1.86 percent at 113.15 euros in a weaker Paris market. (Additional reporting by Nicholas Vinocur, editing by Catherine Bremer and Matthew Jones)