La Perle is a small café around the corner from my apartment in Paris. In the last week it has become synonymous with the downfall of John Galliano. It lies in the heart of Le Marais, a district that has become both the centre of Jewish and Gay life in Paris. When Haussmann rebuilt Paris with its massive boulevards he left the windy streets of Le Marais largely untouched. In turn, those with alternative lifestyles who perhaps also wanted to be untouched found their home here: both Jewish migrants and later the Gay and Chinese community. Today this extraordinary little area has a strange mix of high-end fashion boutiques, Yiddish and Chinese restaurants, Falafel stands, gay and lesbian bars. Israeli, Chinese, French and the rainbow-coloured LGBT flags, flutter side-by-side. This is a place where difference has been respected and tolerance understood.
All around the vicinity of La Perle are plaques in memory of the deported French Jews and the martyrs of French resistance in the area, many of them, but not all, Jewish. For someone to have expounded such vile sentiments at the very scene of many of the wartime deportations of French Jews is crass and there is no excuse: to proclaim their love of Hitler and to tell an unidentified group of people: “Your mothers, your forefathers, would all be f-ing gassed” is unpardonable.
It is with this in mind that I am surprised by the response by some to Mr Galliano’s actions and the number of apologists for anti-Semitism that are out in force especially in the fashion industry. The Economist’s Shumpeter informs us ‘drink and drugs clearly play an important part’ adding recent outbursts by the actor Charlie Sheen and the actions of Mel Gibson are also down to mind-altering substances. I have heard the same excuse used in Labour Party circles for Ken Livingstone’s outburst at a Jewish journalist, Oliver Finegold, when comparing him to a concentration camp guard.
Others have described Galliano’s behaviour as sad; the actions of a fractured genius; a result of his celebrity; a step too far in his desire to push the limits or to outrage; as someone working in a pressurised industry; of a response to taunting by fellow drinkers or diners; as someone who is not racist.
I have another theory, John Galliano might be a fashion genius, he might well have thought his success and those that surrounded him in the psychophantic fashion industry made him feel invincible but at the end of the day on the youtube video going around the world he appears to me to be a washed out old-fashioned racist – and that Mr Galliano, in Le Marais and elsewhere, is thankfully not à la mode!