Galliano faces trial as Dior forges ahead with show

PARIS Thu Mar 3, 2011 12:52pm GMT

Fashion designer John Galliano (C) and his lawyer Stephane Zerbib (L) arrive for a hearing at a police station in Paris February 28, 2011. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Fashion designer John Galliano (C) and his lawyer Stephane Zerbib (L) arrive for a hearing at a police station in Paris February 28, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

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PARIS (Reuters) - Disgraced fashion designer John Galliano will stand trial over accusations he issued racist insults in public which have already cost him his job at couture house Christian Dior and prompted him to apologies "unreservedly" on Wednesday.

Dior said it would go ahead with its Paris Fashion Week show after it fired 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 in public 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. The most recent happened on Thursday and the first in October.

The fallen star, who has worked for Dior since 1996, said in a statement that anti-Semitism and racism "have no part in our society" and "unreservedly" apologized for causing any offence.

The video surfaced after the 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 that he 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."

It is uncertain when the video was taken, but Thursday's incident involved a couple, who complained that Galliano had verbally abused them using racist and anti-Semitic insults 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," he said in his statement on Wednesday.

SHOW MUST GO ON

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 on with Galliano's autumn-winter 2011 collection for the fashion house, a highlight of Paris Fashion Week 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 ousting, rumors swirled around his succession at Dior with many fashion industry insiders pointing to Riccardo Tisci, currently 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 Christian 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 press office decline to comment.

DISRUPTION

The saga has cast a pall over Paris Fashion Week -- a bi-annual event for ready-to-wear that draws thousands of fashionistas and critics from around the world, costs millions of euros and sets the year's trends across the industry.

Chief Executive Sidney Toledano said on Tuesday the "odious nature" of Galliano's behavior on the video led Dior to relieve him of his duties after 15 years as the label's chief designer.

"It is very sad for this to happen during fashion week. The only thing people will talk about is Galliano, when they are supposed to be focusing on the fashion," Susan Tabak, who runs a luxury lifestyle website, told Reuters.

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 could lose revenues from an entire collection.

Dior's fashion show is usually attended by Bernard Arnault, the founder and chief executive Dior's daughter company LVMH.

Dior shares were down 1.34 percent at 103.25 euros and LVMH were down 1.99 percent at 113 euros in a weaker Paris market.

A string of celebrities, including Oscar-winning French actress Marion Cotillard, would normally be in the front row, but some may now feel uncomfortable being present.

Actress Natalie Portman, who has a deal to promote Miss Dior Cherie perfume, voiced her disgust with Galliano late on Monday in New York and said she wanted nothing more to do with him.

(Additional reporting by Nicholas Vinocur, editing by Catherine Bremer and Paul Casciato)

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