Monday, 7 March 2011

Don't feed the bad wolf

I don’t know what it is about the last two weeks but I’ve been suffering from terrible ennui, interspersed with bouts of vigorous activity that then leave me prostrate on the sofa again afterwards.  The extreme cold has done nothing to help the matter as my inner sloth, often bound and caged in the deeper recesses of my mind, starts to poke a nose out and decide it’s time to curl up for a snooze somewhere that I can’t help but fall over him and join him in a nap. 

It’s not a secret that I work in HR (it’s not something you can hide, though oh how I try) so the news of John Galliano’s dismissal from Dior really piqued my interest.  I can imagine that the support functions are viewed in much the same way at a fashion house as they are in many other corporate environments – there to do something of little importance compared to the fee generators, the creatives or the general client facing population.  Support are fee burners by any measure, and HR has a particularly bad reputation for creating, implementing, and tinkering with intangible things that no one really wants to do.  Appraisals are a good example of that.  As an act of whimsy I’d love to see Galliano’s last appraisal – ‘you’re doing a great job, constructive feedback is that you might want to tone down your outlandish views/style etc’.  In reality, he is clearly a sartorial savant and I imagine most budding designers, pattern cutters, or machinists would put up with an awful lot of bad behaviour just to say they helped put together one of his creations, let alone a whole show.  It is also highly unlikely you’d manage to get someone like that to conform to corporate norms; if anything his outlandish behaviour would set the norm and therefore be seen as acceptable within the confines of his environment, no doubt spawning many pretenders to his style.  On that note, it’s funny how we hear a lot about bad behaviour in kitchens, but not much about the studios and ateliers in Paris, Milan and other fashion centres.  I wonder why that is.  Perhaps they all behave badly and that in itself is an industry norm.

Imagine being the HR person, though, who had to sit down and conduct that disciplinary hearing.  How do you advise the MD of LVMH that they need to sack the man who revitalised a legendary brand.  And where does the succession planning for someone like Galliano start – who will fill the void.  I can’t even imagine the shockwaves reverberating around Dior towers now the charismatic helmsman has gone; they are literally rudderless.  A new designer brings with it an inevitable change of creative direction, vision and culture.  What an enormous shift, and with little or no warning.  Who do you choose to bring people with the brand after that?  It brings to mind that brilliant Friends episode where Monica gets a job as a head chef, displacing a relative of most of the serving staff who proceed to torture her as only employees can; the nature of the fashion industry – long hours, tiring and painstaking work, extreme pressure to deliver both creatively and financially - makes the environment extremely familial with all the dramas, highs and lows that that involves, and garnering loyalty and a following is no mean feat.

It will also be interesting to see how Galliano rehabilitates himself over the coming months and years.  He has hired Harbottle and Lewis as his legal counsel for the court case, the same firm who defended Kate Moss during the cocaine scandal.  I wonder whether this was a deliberate attempt to align himself with someone who has so successfully rehabilitated her reputation, despite continuing to lead a fairly wild lifestyle (well, certainly by my tame Jane standards).  Perhaps I’m being narrow-minded, but I’m not sure that the two scandals can be compared.  One was a lifestyle choice, illegal, but nonetheless a choice, and in reality with little or no impact on other people – Mossy has never claimed she is a role model, she’s never told people to follow her – in fact, prior to the scandal she had barely opened her mouth in public – she was a silent icon of the nineties and early noughties, rather than a footballer or two bit boyband player bleating on about being a role model for young people.  The other is someone trumpeting their personal views – whether deeply held convictions or otherwise – that fundamentally offend an entire population, and an enormous number of people who don’t believe it’s acceptable for someone to impose their views, offensive or otherwise, on other people.

One can’t help but wonder whether someone such as Galliano, who has to constantly reinvent his visual and aesthetic identity, was trying out a position, adopting a posture to see what the fit was like.  Appropriate?  No, but aside from the obviously bathetic sight of a middle aged fashion deity sitting alone in a bar spouting drunken nonsense, used to an environment where people’s quirkier and more outlandish characteristics are tolerated, the boundaries for him may well have been a lot blurrier than for the rest of us.  Whatever the reason, with hindsight, this must feel like a catastrophic act of self-sabotage to the man at the heart of the storm.

Although I know this is probably mean, I was genuinely disappointed by Natalie Portman’s response to it – she did the right thing by threatening to pull her brand away from Dior if they failed to act on the situation – but the phrase that what Galliano said goes “against everything that is beautiful” has to be one of the most vacuous sentences in the English language – I’ve always thought of her as an intelligent and luminous actress, but this is probably why it’s better to watch the end result of the process and not try and learn too much about the actors behind the performances.  The simple fact of it is that his wasn’t an aesthetic position but was about his views and opinions, deep seated neuroses, or long-held prejudices.  They have absolutely nothing to do with the things he creates or his professional role; of course in the rarefied position that he inhabits, his personal, professional and private selves do come under scrutiny and cannot be separated out, but to align his comments only with his commercial and creative output is to suggest the affect of his words is limited only to the fashion world, which in my mind at least is fundamentally not true. 

On a much lighter but connected note, this week I actually made it to the cinema for the first time in months and saw Black Swan which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Beautiful music, of course, and an interesting take on the Odile/Odette dynamic; the oppressive tension throughout made it a film I couldn’t take my eyes off.  Not sure it’s quite the modern classic that people have been saying as I think it has a relatively limited appeal, but good re-entry to the flicks for me. 

I’ve recently become utterly addicted to the Good Life on TV and find myself looking forward to seeing Tom and Barbara’s doings every evening – that runt piglet arriving was a great episode, lovely hankering for the days when you could negotiate with a bobby about a speeding ticket, and it raised an eyebrow for a man to be driving around in his dressing gown with another man’s wife in the passenger seat.  Not quite the high culture of Black Swan, but it does give me a yen to out in the garden and plant some veggies.  Not just yet – possible house move plus freezing weather = total resistance to getting outside.  I do obviously, am not a total hermit, but am just saying, it’s not that pleasant …

On the crafty side of life, I attempted to fit my first zipper to the dress last Tuesday evening and can officially say that zips have entirely overtaken zigzag stitch as my arch-sewing nemesis.  The tacking has to be good and I really don’t like hand sewing (apart from embroidery which I think is rather swell) – plus it was cold (without wanting to commandeer a male argument for failure to impress with one’s performance) and my hands couldn’t grip the needle.  What a blinking nightmare.  The zip took so much time that my planned finish failed and I’ve taken today off to finish it and get it up to scratch.  Can’t wait though as it does actually look like a real, albeit current un-hemmed, dress.  Must get started I suppose – have been working on a house warming gift for a friends since early this morning which should be finished in about an hour, and then onward with the dress.

Crikey, it’s going to be a busy one but what a lovely way to spend a chilly, sunny Monday …

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