Numerous stars have worn or wear Christian Dior -- not just fashion-first fixtures but Oscar-level performers such as Michelle Williams, Marion Cotillard and Charlize Theron, the last of whom was once a fragrance spokeswoman for them.
Dior is, as everyone within smelling distance of a news site knows, a brand that has become charged after its chief designer, John Galliano, became embroiled in an anti-Semitism scandal. As my colleagues Adam Tschorn and Booth Miller write Wednesday, after the designer was accused by several people in Paris of making anti-Semitic remarks, a man who appeared to be the designer was shown on video saying he "loved Hitler" and had several off-screen women lived decades ago they'd now be "gassed ... and dead." Dior responded by saying it was going to fire Galliano. (Associates of Galliano said Wednesday morning that he has plans to enter rehab.)
In a stroke of unfortunate timing, the actress currently associated with Dior -- and in fact whose commercial for the brand is currently airing on national television -- also just happens to be in the spotlight for her Oscar win. Natalie Portman, a spokeswoman for Dior's Miss Cherie fragrance, severed her ties with Dior as the Galliano scandal picked up momentum.
A designer is, of course, different than an actor. When Mel Gibson sparks controversy, even longtime friends can remain quiet, suggesting, essentially, that's his problem to deal with. If John Gallliano makes racist or anti-Semitic remarks, an entire brand goes with him.
Portman did not remain quiet. "I am deeply shocked and disgusted by the video," the actress said in a statement Tuesday. "In light of this video, and as an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way."
She may -- or may not -- have made those comments earlier had a representative for the motion-picture academy not stepped in.
Backstage at the Oscars on Sunday night, a reporter said she noticed Portman wasn't wearing Dior that night (she was wearing Rodarte, which makes sense given that the designer was behind the "Black Swan" costumes, but no matter), and went on to ask how she felt about Galliano's alleged anti-Semitic remarks (this was before the video surfaced). The actress actually didn’t look that bothered by the question, and in fact may have been ready to answer it, but before she could, the person from the academy in charge of calling on reporters jumped in to say that we were going to move on to the next question, and the reporter sat down with Portman not saying anything.
The academy spokesperson got Portman off the hook of a thorny issue. For actors, reacting to a scandal like this is almost less a question of how but when. Respond too soon and you risk being tainted by that scandal; wait too long and you risk looking spineless.
The Charlie Sheen circus currently playing out presents its own issues for big-screen actors -- no doubt Colin Farrell, Sean Penn and even Mel Gibson are grimacing at being outed for an association with Team Winning. But the fashion and movie worlds are now so intertwined that when a controversy hits, some of the trickiest questions are those that confront Hollywood actors.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Natalie Portman (in Rodarte) at the Oscars. Credit: Gabriel Bouys/AFP