PARIS: Fashion designer John Galliano claimed Wednesday as he stood trial for anti-Semitic insults that it was an alcoholic, drug-addicted “shell” of himself who lashed out at patrons in a hip Paris bar.
Galliano did not deny the racist and anti-Jewish rants he is accused of but insisted he had no recollection of the incidents that cost him his coveted job as creative director at Christian Dior fashion house.
“They are not views that I hold or believe in,” he said after the court was shown a video in which he declares he loves Hitler and tells shocked customers in La Perle bar in the Marais district that they were lucky not to be gassed.
“In the video, I see someone who needs help, who is very vulnerable. It is a shell of John Galliano, pushed to the edge,” said the British designer, who repeatedly denied he was anti-Semitic or racist.
He told the court he suffered from a triple addiction to alcohol, valium and sleeping pills and that he went into rehab in Arizona and Switzerland after being sacked from Dior and was now in “day care”.
The 50-year-old - considered one of the finest fashion designers of his generation - risks six months in jail and a fine of 22,500 euros ($32,000) if convicted of subjecting La Perle customers to an obscene tirade in February.
Asked by presiding judge if he wished to apologise to the three plaintiffs, Galliano replied: “I apologise very much. I apologise for the sadness this whole affair has caused. I embrace every people, every race, creed, religion, sexuality,” he said, adding that he celebrated diversity through his couture.
Galliano said that he himself had experienced bigotry first hand as an immigrant from Gibraltar growing up in London and that he suffered at school because of his homosexuality.
He said he began abusing drugs and alcohol in 2007 against a backdrop of financial crisis and the death of close friend Steven Robinson. “After every creative high, I would crash, and alcohol helped me escape,” he said.
The designer looked relaxed in the stately wood-panelled courtroom, dressed soberly in a black jacket and loose silk trousers, long hair brushed back over his shoulders, as presiding judge Anne-Marie Sauteraud read the charges.
He was accompanied by his lawyer Aurelien Hamelle and a burly, bald-headed bodyguard who sat two rows behind him.
An interpreter whispered the proceedings into his left ear as Sauteraud quoted Galliano as having allegedly hurled insults and obscenities at an Asian man and a Jewish lady.
Asked by the prosecutor if she was sure John Galliano had used the word “Jewish”, his alleged target Geraldine Bloch replied confidently: “Yes, several times... it was one of the most recurrent words.” She said Galliano had begun by mocking her “cheap boots”, moved on to insult her figure and then began swearing at her.
But Marion Bully, 30, an English teacher who was in La Perle at the time, told the court that while she heard Galliano insulting the woman, at no time did she hear Jewish references.
A second witness, a 24-year-old fashion student, said she too was at the bar and confirmed an altercation but denied hearing Jewish references.
“I did not hear any anti-Semitic things,” she said.
To barely suppressed giggles in the packed court, the judge translated Galliano's obscenities into French, and then proceeded to read a lengthy and highly detailed report of what allegedly took place at La Perle on February 24.
That was when Galliano was arrested in a drunken state after Bloch and Philippe Virgitti alleged he subjected them to a stream of anti-Semitic abuse in the trendy bar.
Another woman, Fathia Oumeddour, later came forward to say she was the victim of a similar assault in October last year, and then a video surfaced of Galliano insulting someone else in the same bar.
Oumeddour's complaint was also part of Wednesday's proceedings.
Galliano has lodged a legal counter-suit against the couple in the first incident, alleging defamation.
In video footage originally posted online by Britain's Sun newspaper - and shown to the court Wednesday - a seemingly drunk Galliano tells another couple in the same Paris bar: “I love Hitler”.
He went on to add: “People like you would be dead.” The hearings for Galliano's trial were expected to be completed later Wednesday, with judges expected to deliver a verdict and eventual sentence at a later date.