PARIS (Reuters) - Fashion designer John Galliano will attend in person his trial on Wednesday over charges he hurled anti-Semitic insults at customers in a cafe in a series of outbursts that have wrecked a towering career.
Galliano, 50, was fired as creative director for fashion empire Dior in March after a video surfaced online showing him, apparently inebriated, telling a woman he “loved Hitler” and that her parents might have been gassed in a Nazi death camp.
The video, filmed in December, sent shockwaves through the fashion world as complaints surfaced over two separate incidents of alleged anti-Semitic slurs by the British designer, which will be dealt with at Wednesday’s trial.
If found guilty Galliano faces up to 22,000 euros ($31,500) in fines and a six-month prison sentence, people close to the case said.
The designer, who has been treated since his dismissal from Dior for multiple substance abuse problems, is to appear at the trial and testify that he is neither a racist nor an anti-Semite but an addict who lost control of his words, his lawyer said.
“One obvious thing is that John Galliano was ill,” lawyer Aurelien Hamelle told Reuters.
“He had a triple addiction to alcohol, benzodiazepine (Valium) and sleeping pills ... The combined effect of these drugs is a state of complete and utter abandon.”
Under pressure to turn a profit at Dior while also managing his own fashion label, Galliano fell deeper into addiction until he was drinking heavily, ingesting Valium tranquilizer pills “like candy” and using sleeping pills regularly, Hamelle said.
“When he was in that state he had no way of knowing or remembering what he said. Every witness at the cafe has said he was in an abnormal condition,” Hamelle said, adding Galliano himself was baffled to see his behavior in the video.
Galliano has apologized repeatedly for the recorded remarks.
The prosecution will present Galliano as a bigoted man whose hatreds and prejudices rose to the surface when he was drunk and cavorting on what he considered to be home territory.
Geraldine Bloch, a museum curator who said she did not know of Galliano before their encounter on February 24, is suing him over what her lawyer described as a 45-minute, drink-fueled tirade of anti-Semitic, racist and personal abuse.
Lawyer Yves Beddouk said his client was not interested in money. He will fight at the trial for 1 euro of symbolic damages and the publication of the court decision in the fashion magazines Elle and Vogue and in the French daily Le Figaro.
The three known incidents involving Galliano and alleged rants — Bloch’s in February, another in October and the December incident that was filmed anonymously and published on the Internet — all took place at La Perle, a cafe down the street from Galliano’s home in Paris’s trendy Marais district.
“Galliano considered that he was on his own territory, and that people he didn’t like had no right to be there,” Beddouk told Reuters outside a courthouse in Versailles.
“When you’ve got such a big reputation, you need to be even more respectful and cautious than regular people,” he said, adding that Galliano’s rants seemed to be part of a pattern.
Whatever the trial’s outcome, Galliano will struggle to overcome an episode that has devastated his career, tainting what had been one of the biggest success stories in the world of high fashion in two decades.
Long known as the “enfant terrible” of haute couture, Galliano revitalized the Dior brand on taking it over in 1996, injecting a powerful dose of edginess until his last Fall-Winter womenswear collection was presented, in his absence, on March 4.
In the ensuing weeks, Galliano was also dropped from his own fashion brand, “John Galliano,” 92-percent owned by Dior, and came under fire from people like Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld.
Dior is the main fashion name at LVMH, the world’s biggest luxury group and led by billionaire Bernard Arnault.
Hamelle said Galliano has been sober for three months and is “rebuilding himself” after treatment in the United States for addiction but had yet to return to a regular professional activity.
Editing by Catherine Bremer and Matthew Jones