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c.2013 New York Times News Service
NEW YORK — John Galliano, the disgraced fashion designer, was nowhere to be seen at Oscar de la Renta's fashion show Tuesday night, though the luminaries in attendance, including Anna Wintour, Valentino and Diane von Furstenberg, were certainly aware of his presence, as were the paparazzi lined up three-deep on the sidewalk 25 floors below on West 42nd Street.
The startling designs that made their way along the runway were the clearest sign yet that Galliano, who was dismissed from the house of Dior in 2011 following a drunken anti-Semitic tirade at a Paris cafe, but who has been sitting in as a guest in de la Renta's studio for the past month, may be contemplating a professional comeback
If so, it will have been carefully orchestrated over the last year by some of Galliano's chief supporters in the fashion industry, most notably his close friends Wintour and Jonathan Newhouse, the powerful chairman of Conde Nast International, who have approached Jewish leaders, including rabbis and the influential Anti-Defamation League, on his behalf. Their endorsements have made possible the return of a designer who some thought would never find work again after a video surfaced showing Galliano taunting other patrons with comments that included, "I love Hitler."
His surprise involvement in the design of de la Renta's fall 2013 collection has led to enormous curiosity in the insular world of fashion about a future for Galliano, but also questions as to whether the public is ready to forgive someone who was convicted by the French courts of making anti-Semitic remarks. On Wednesday, The New York Post published on its cover a photograph of Galliano wearing a designer outfit that the newspaper characterized as bearing a resemblance to Hasidic attire.
Several Jewish customers and retailers have also protested privately to de la Renta, including Sandy Schreier, one of the world's biggest collectors of couture fashion, who said she was initially horrified when she heard that Galliano would be working there, even in a vague capacity, though she has since softened her position.
''I assumed if he was coming there, he was not coming there to have cookies," Schreier said in a telephone interview from her home in Southfield, Mich. "As a Jew, I felt very upset about it."
Even as Galliano's involvement in de la Renta's fall collection caused offense to some customers, and sparked outrage among others who perceived his rehabilitation to be insincere, several editors are now publicly endorsing the return of a designer they believe to be among the greatest talents of the past 20 years. Wintour, Vogue's editor, and Grace Coddington, its creative director, have met privately with him to express their support, as have other editors who have known the English designer since he started a label in London in the late 1980s. Wintour declined to comment Wednesday.
Newhouse, the chairman of Conde Nast International, has helped Galliano with contacts among religious leaders over the past two years, including Rabbi Barry Marcus of the Central Synagogue in London and Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of Britain. Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said Wednesday that he had met with Galliano on at least five occasions and that he believed the designer's sincerity in his apologies.
''He was punished because of what he said, and I think deservedly so," Foxman said. "But if he's punished for the rest of his life, he will become an anti-Semite."
Galliano has also said he is seeking treatment for alcoholism and he has told friends that he has no memory of the 2011 outburst. Newhouse said that Galliano had told him that he was appalled by his behavior.
''He has straightened out his life in every way and is taking his life in a new direction," Newhouse said. "I hope people can see that and give him another chance."
In January, Wintour asked de la Renta to invite Galliano to take up a temporary residency in his New York studio, and de la Renta said he immediately agreed. The designers have a shared history of working in Paris at the same time, when de la Renta designed for Balmain.
While Galliano, 52, was purposefully kept out of public view in the designer's studio (only a handful of beauty editors spotted him there during a recent fragrance launch), his involvement has led to speculation about his future, including as a possible successor to de la Renta, who is 80. De la Renta, who has acknowledged that he has been treated for cancer and is recovering, has given no indication of his intention to retire, but has not ruled out asking Galliano to stay.
The show Tuesday offered a rare view of two of fashion's most dynamic hands at work in a single collection, and the results reflected a great degree of Galliano's influence. De la Renta showed a floral jacquard jacket in a cocoon shape that is common to Galliano's work, and many of the opening suits bore a strong resemblance to those Galliano once created for Dior, at least in the way they were styled, with the models wearing felt cloche hats and their jackets bound by thin leather belts that were knotted at the waist rather than buckled.
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Executives at the studio, who would not speak publicly as a matter of policy, said that Galliano gave advice to the design team and that he was a regular presence over the past few weeks. They said he spent hours leading a seminar in how to tie the belts properly and he was in the studio well after midnight on the night before the show.
Liz Rosenberg, a spokeswoman for Galliano, said that during the show, he watched on a monitor backstage with de la Renta. "He felt the thrill of being back in the midst of doing what he had been doing for many years," she said.
De la Renta said Wednesday that while Galliano's creativity is well-known, his work ethic is also "extraordinary."
''Like me, he is a perfectionist," de la Renta said.
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De la Renta has previously said he was unconcerned about the backlash he might face for supporting Galliano, but some loyal customers were skeptical about the results after the show.
Schreier said she looked at de la Renta's collection online to see whether there was any reflection of Galliano in the clothes. "It is undeniable," she said. "The only thing Oscar has admitted to was that he was backstage. I don't think he was just there taking up space."
As a customer, Schreier said she believes that Galliano was one of the most talented designers she has ever encountered. But writing an essay about her couture collection recently, she said she could not bring herself to include his name among its highlights. Now she has reconsidered her position and has decided Galliano deserves a second chance.
''Almost everyone is willing to give a second chance," she said, "but I am not willing to give a third chance."