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High & Low – John Galliano movie review (2024)

Coming from a life story of exploitation, John Galliano, a son of a plumber, turned pawn of billionaire Bernard Arnault, is used to further the celebratory narrative of high fashion. As to not shy away from the harm, Kevin Macdonald introduces it in the first scene. Galliano states, “I love Hitler,” and then proceeds to state antisemitic comments to a cafegoer. These incidents by Galliano occur three times in Cafe La Perle in Paris, France. As an addict, Galliano receives relentless praise from celebrities such as Naomi Campbell, Edward Enninful, Anna Wintour, the late André Tally and Kate Moss. Praised throughout a life riddled with alcoholism, his drive was gassed by those unaffected by his illness. The documentary ends with Galliano climbing up a flight of stairs, to show that even with his repetitive racist comments and laundry list of other issues, he still made it to the top. Although Galliano has headed artistic direction for brands such as Dior, Givenchy, and now Maison Margiela, his hard work has not granted him the net worth of the ultimate man he is feeding, billionaire Bernaud Arnault. 

John Galliano seeks forgiveness and top executives search high and low for his comments to be validated and forgiven by SOMEBODY. The validation, whether existent or not, is not needed by the heads of the fashion industry because it thrives off of toxic perceptions of the world. Anything and anyone are up for grabs; there is no moral code. Except if you are a Black person, like Kanye West, who has been dropped from top labels, becomes irredeemable and is not protected by his illness—which Anna Wintour says is the reason for Galliano’s racist comments and unlike his true character. Alcoholism is also to blame. Bernard Arnault, who leads both alcohol and fashion empires, is in the business of making alcoholism a mask for inhumanity. Racism, poverty-fodder, cultural theft and the pillage of history are the bacteria in which fashion grows in a petri dish and sells. 

Illustrated and juxtaposed to the 1927 Napoleon film by Abel Gance, director Kevin Macdonald captures Galliano as vulnerable and Napoleonic as he recalls his life in the fashion industry. Galliano’s character is described as an escape artist. His story centers on the need to escape his abusive father and then finding fashion. From a suburban British boy to an unstoppable, highly-protected fashion icon with legal charges of antisemitic behavior, the story is almost cliche. People deserve protection through illness and growth processes, but what distinguishes celebrities like Kanye West from John Galliano? White superiority complexes fueled by capitalistic and sadistic system heads aka Bernard Arnault. 

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