- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 22, 2011

PARIS (AP) - Though the flamboyant former Dior designer John Galliano was the one on the stand, it was the multi-billion-dollar luxury industry that seemed to be on trial Wednesday in Paris as the disgraced designer blamed the sector’s skyrocketing pressures for his unraveling.

Galliano is on trial for allegedly spewing anti-Semitic and racist remarks at strangers at a Paris cafe in two separate incidents. Facing charges of “public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity” he could face up to six months in prison and up to euro22,500 ($32,175) in fines.

The prosecutors asked Wednesday for a fine of no less than euro10,000 ($14,400), but did not ask for jail time. A verdict is due Sept. 8.

In emotional testimony, the soft-spoken designer insisted he doesn’t remember having made any anti-Semitic or racist rants, but acknowledged he was lost to alcohol and drug addictions when the alleged incidents took place, in February and late last year.

The 50-year-old designer has tangled with addiction before, but the latest bout started in 2007, as the global financial crisis forced labels to fight for their very lives. As Galliano’s workload both at luxury supernova Christian Dior _ where he had worked since 1996 _ and at his small signature John Galliano label increased, he told the court he sought refuge in pills and alcohol.

“After every creative high, I would crash, and the alcohol helped me escape,” he told the three-judge panel at the Paris Justice Palace. He said he also began to pop ever-rising numbers of sleeping pills and barbiturates _ so many that he completely lost track of his consumption.

“I only just discovered in rehab what a lethal mix it was,” said Galliano, who underwent a two-month-long treatment in Arizona after the incident. Asked whether he’d managed to break the addictions, the designer responded, “Yes, I’m still in recovery but I’m feeling much better.”

Galliano’s attorney, Aurelien Hamelle, was pursuing a two-pronged defense strategy, calling as witnesses customers of the cafe where the alleged incidents took place who said that though they’d been watching the altercations, they hadn’t heard him make any racist remarks.

Contrition was the second prong. Galliano _ who always ended his runway shows with a puff-chested lap down the runway, looking as proud and self-satisfied as a rooster _ looked defeated at Wednesday’s proceedings, his face drawn and deflated.

Speaking in a voice so wispy that the interpreter couldn’t make out what he was saying, the designer repeatedly said he was sorry for whatever he might have said while under the influence.

“I apologize for the sadness that this whole affair has caused, I apologize to the court as well,” he said through his lawyer, who stepped in to translate his remarks from English into French. Still, Galliano was careful to maintain that he remembered no details about what he said during either incident.

However, the couple that contended Galliano accosted them while they were having a drink on a terrace of the hip La Perle cafe in Paris’ central Marais district on Feb. 24 stuck firmly to their stories.

Though the specifics of the spat varied depending on who was telling it, most of the witnesses at the afternoon-long trial suggested the incident was drawn out, with the couple shouting four-letter words at the designer while he gave them right back, in a softer voice.

The hundred-odd journalists packed into the stately courtroom tittered as presiding Judge Anne-Marie Sauteraud read a salty litany of swear words in English as well as their French translations off deposition records. “Shut up,” and “you’re ugly” were allegedly among Galliano’s sole barbs that are fit to print.

One member of the couple allegedly insulted, Geraldine Bloch, told the court that Galliano pronounced the word “Jewish” in his insults “at least 30 times” in the approximately 45-minute-long altercation.

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