A “Shmuck” in Fashion

By Jennifer Williams [April 18th, 2013] 


As with many fashion-obsessed souls, I have spent countless nights dedicated to the fashionable world created by Patricia Field in “Sex and the City.” Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw is whom I always identified with most. She’s a romantic who is passionate about her city and is openly addicted when it comes to her clothes and shoes.

One can never forget the infamous tutu getup in the intro, the Vivienne Westwood dress for the wedding that would never be, and, of course, the John Galliano for Dior newspaper dress.

The moment I saw that dress marked the beginning of my being captivated by Mr. Galliano’s fantastical designs. Then came the scandal in 2011 in which the designer made anti-Semitic remarks in a Parisian cafe and subsequently lost his place at Dior, and in the world of fashion.

For a while, his name was an everyday staple in disparaging headlines. And then, as is true with most scandalous events, something more current and sensational came along and he was gone from the spotlight. That is until recently.

Mr. Galliano reemerged as a topic ripe for headlines when he showed up for the unveiling of Fall 2013 collections at New York Fashion Week. The New York Post used a photograph of him in what was considered by some to be Hasidic garb and placed it under the headline, “Shmuck.”

Some said this was an affront to Jewish people, an attempt to mock them. Others pointed out that Mr. Galliano has always been a flamboyant dresser and that he wasn’t intending to mock anyone but was just wearing another one of his outrageous outfits.

I know his name and reputation have been through the muddiest of waters and this is not likely on the top of his list of concerns, but I wondered, albeit a stretch, whether or not calling him a “Shmuck” counted as defamation in any way.

Defamation is an intentional false communication which is written (libel) or spoken (slander), that “harms a person’s reputation; decreases the respect, regard, or confidence in which a person is held; or induces disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a person.”

First things first, John Galliano would likely be considered a public figure, which makes defamation a harder thing for him to prove. In 1967, the Supreme Court determined in Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts that the actual malice standard was applicable to public figures, which means that there must be a reckless disregard for the truth.

Even if this standard could be overcome, there are several defenses available to the New York Post.

Some would likely argue that the statement is true and thus the 1967 Supreme Court decision in Time, Inc. v. Hill holding that truth is an absolute defense to defamation would apply. Or, the term could be classified as an opinion, which is a protected form of speech. In 1990, the Supreme Court determined in Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co. that full constitutional protection is afforded to “a statement of opinion having no provably false factual connotation.” And finally, rhetorical hyperbole, which is language that the average person would understand purely as a joke, satire, or exaggerated name-calling, is deemed non-defamatory.

And so it seems that the New York Post would have an entire arsenal of defenses should Mr. Galliano decide this were a cause worth fighting (which isn’t likely).

While I’m not sure if I’ll ever again see a collection from John Galliano sent down a runway, I can say with certainty that the New York Post is well within its right in calling the designer a “Shmuck.”

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