High & Low: John Galliano – movie review

From Oscar winning filmmaker Kevin MacDonald (Touching The Void) comes High & Low. This revealing documentary charts the rise and fall of legendary iconoclastic fashion designer John Galliano; who has been acclaimed as one of the greatest designers of the twentieth century. Galliano rose to prominence in London in the 1980s during the New Wave movement. He became famous for his flamboyant designs and his controversial, almost cinematic approach to his runway shows. He also became a head designer for Givenchy and then the House of Dior in Paris.

But his career spectacularly imploded in 2011 when video emerged of a drunken Galliano spouting horrible ant-Semitic rhetoric at a couple of tourists in a Parisian cafe. The video went viral, and his fall from grace was meteoric as many of his admirers and supporters deserted him amid the fallout. A court case followed and a period of rehabilitation in an exclusive facility in Arizona; and then a re-education program sponsored by a Rabbi who has Galliano learn about the history of the Holocaust. With powerful industry figures such as Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, in his corner, Galliano eventually made a return to the world of high fashion.

With access to lots of archival footage, including that now-notorious video, MacDonald charts Galliano’s rise and fall, the highs and lows of his career and his eventual rehabilitation. MacDonald also offers a critical examination of the intense demands of the fashion industry which drove Galliano to drugs and alcohol to help him cope with the pressure. He does seem a little sympathetic towards Galliano’s plight, but he also needs to be diplomatic in his approach to the material because one of the main financial backers for the documentary was Conde Naste, the publisher of Vogue Magazine.

The film includes an extensive and candid interview with Galliano himself as he expresses remorse for his behaviour and actions. Although I was left to wonder how much of his contrition is genuine and how much is for the cameras. But further context is provided through a series of interviews with people like models Charlize Theron, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. Many of his contemporaries who know Galliano best also appear, as well as Washington Post journalist Robin Givan, who observes that “fashion has a very short memory” for such indiscretions.

A lot of documentaries profiling influential and even controversial figures within the fashion industry have emerged of late. They include films about punk stylist Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Andre Leon Talley, Iris Apfel, Manolo Blahnik, Valentino, Karl Lagerfield, and Mary Quant, which appeal to a certain demographic. While those with an interest in fashion will certainly enjoy much of the first half of the film and its footage of Galliano at work with highlights of his many fashion shows, I felt that High & Low would have been much more interesting, focused and insightful if released as a one-hour documentary.

Greg King

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