The trial of designer John Galliano—for those of you who just flew in from Mars, he was accused earlier this year of making anti-Semitic comments during a drunken rant in a Paris bar, and has been charged with committing a hate crime—begins today in France. It’s got me thinking about just how incomprehensible I find anti-Semitism to be. Like most people who came up in the fashion world, I am wildly pro-Jew. Jews have been good to me. Jews have always put a roof over my head. They helped me back when I was young, feral, unwashed and ridiculous. I am what you might call a major mitzvah recipient.
There is not enough space here to kvell about all the fabulous Jews who have recklessly and generously enabled my shenanigans over the years, but here are some edited highlights: In the mid-’70s I dressed windows for a glamorous Jewish couple named Shelley and Tony who had a chain of fashion shops dotted about the London area named, amazingly, Sheltone Fashions. While working for Shelley and Tony I picked up extra clams moonlighting at a Jewish-owned office-lady fashion boutique in the City of London named City Girl Jennifer. These high-street jobs gave me a wealth of experience and an extensive knowledge of Yiddish. They also gave me a lifelong addiction to stores with amusing names: I recently heard about a business in midtown Manhattan named Savoir Faire Avec Brenda. I am now terrified something might happen to Brenda, thereby forcing a name change: Savoir Faire Sans Brenda?
Back to my Jew wanderings.
In the late ‘70s I was plucked from this chiaro-obscurity by a brilliant, creative, and eccentric Jew named Tommy Perse who sponsored my green card and gave me a job at his store, Maxfield, an iconic temple of chic in West Hollywood. Back then I was wilder, younger, and even more disaster-prone than I am now. I relied heavily on my Jewish safety net, and the Jews always came through. When the engine fell out of my ‘65 Dodge push-button station-wagon, Tommy good-naturedly coughed up the dough to fix it. When I got busted for drunk driving while wearing a plaid bondage punk outfit Tommy helped me find a lawyer.
I would still be working at Maxfield if the equally creative and brilliant Gene Pressman had not given me my job at Barneys, where I have schlepped happily for more than 25 years.
Why did the Jews in my life extend a helping hand to this flailing fagele? Maybe it is because they too are members of a marginalized and oft-reviled group. The difference between a pink triangle and a yellow star is, after all, only three more points. Which brings us back to the fragile, talented Mr. Galliano.
I suspect that John Galliano could, were he thus inclined, tell a story very similar to mine. Now that he is (fingers crossed) sober, I hope he can sincerely acknowledge how much of his success he owes to the kindness and support of Jewish mitzvahs, machers, schmatta kings, fashionistas, and, most importantly, customers. Newsflash: WASPs don’t shop! Without the passionate and genuine support of style-obsessed Dior-loving Jewesses, Galliano might be stitching frocks for City Girl Jennifer.
Galliano was not the first fashion personality to randomly and bizarrely bite the hand that feeds. Paging Cecil Beaton! In the February 1938 issue of Vogue, the fashion photographer Beaton bizarrely included the following hate speech into an illustrated border: “Mr. R. Andrew’s ball at the El Morocco brought out all the dirty kikes in town.” Condé Nast recalled 130,000 copies of the magazine and Beaton resigned. It was, as my Jewish in-laws would say, “A total shonda!” Redemption eventually followed. And then recidivism. Beaton is alleged to have told upper-class Brit pals decades later that he was “glad he did it.”
Oy veh! How depressing! Now I really need cheering up.If you know of a more amusing store name than Savoir Faire Avec Brendathen please, I beg you, dollop it into the comments. You will make this aging shiksa very happy.