On Monday, the Met hosted its annual Gala, one of the most significant events of the year for fashion and celebrities. This year's theme was “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” to honor the deceased German designer and his work. However, while Lagerfeld had a long and successful history in the fashion industry, he also had an equally long history of making problematic statements - mostly about women and their bodies - that angered many people, both celebrities and not. Thus, the theme resulted in questions of whether Lagerfeld’s work outshined his comments or vice versa and if this theme was created in poor taste.
Lagerfeld had been interested in fashion since he was very young; he won a Woolmark Prize for a coat sketch he did at just 21 years old. After the award, he left Germany for Paris, where he worked for several companies, including Balmain and Patou, before leaving both to become a freelance designer. Other notable fashion houses he worked with were Chloé, Fendi, and Chanel. Lagerfeld left a remarkable impact on his work; he took old fashion houses like Chanel and made them young and cool again and was even the one who made the “double C” Chanel logo famous.
However, as Lagerfeld made a name for himself in the fashion world, he was showing up in the news frequently for shocking behavior. Even up until the year before he died in 2019, he made harmful comments about women. In 2018, he was quoted on the #MeToo movement, saying, “If you don’t want your pants pulled about, don’t become a model! Join a nunnery.” He also expressed his frustrations about new boundaries for models, noting his disdain over the fact that a designer “must ask a model if she is comfortable with posing. It’s simply too much; from now on, as a designer, you can’t do anything.”
Additionally, Lagerfeld was disappointed in the magazine Bridgette’s decision to include models that were more “realistic” in 2009, saying that skinny women are what the fashion industry needs and that is what people want to see. Lagerfeld added that the only people who are upset that the models are skinny are overweight women who don’t want to be reminded of their size, saying, “These are fat mummies sitting with their bags of crisps in front of the television, saying that thin models are ugly.”
Lagerfeld also targeted racial minorities, famously putting model Claudia Schiffer in both black- and yellowface in 2010. Later, in 2017, he criticized his home country Germany for letting in refugees from Muslim-dominant countries. His list of similar remarks and actions goes on and on.
Consequently, when the Met announced that the theme would be “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty,” it received backlash. The Twitter account @HFMetGala tweeted that their team would not be at celebrate the Met Gala this year, as their values “don’t align with the selection of Karl Lagerfeld as the theme.” Actor Jameela Jamil, known for speaking out on many issues, expressed a significant amount of anger that Lagerfeld was the theme of the Gala, particularly instead of Chanel as a whole. She posted that he was “supremely talented, but used his platform in such a distinctly hateful way, mostly towards women, so repeatedly and up until the last years of his life, showing no remorse, offering no atonement, no apology, no help to groups he attacked.”
Yet at the same time, others praised Lagerfeld for his work and were delighted by the Met Gala’s theme choice. Paris Hilton posted on Instagram that Lagerfeld was “such an icon and innovator,” adding, “love that he is the theme.” Even Gigi Hadid said she feels “so lucky to have experienced this legend! He is so very missed.” This was noteworthy as Hadid has involved herself in politics even as a supermodel, previously posting in favor of Palestine in its ongoing conflict with Israel.
The Met Gala’s theme is selected by the Met’s Costume Institute chief curator, currently, Andrew Bolton, who stated in an interview that he aims to honor Lagerfeld’s legacy by focusing on his work over his words and character. Bolton acknowledged in a podcast that Lagerfeld was problematic but questioned whether his comments were sincere or a deflection of something else entirely.
The Lagerfeld debate is an addition to the recent dialogue on whether an artist can be separated from their work. The most famous example is Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s transphobic comments, causing millions of fans to question how the series fits into their lives with this new version of its author.
To conclude, it is undeniable that Karl Lagerfeld was a revolutionary in the fashion world and also said and did disturbing things. He is not the first person to be praised, while audiences look the other way at other aspects of his life, and he will certainly not be the last. When it comes down to it, it is up to individuals where they would like to direct their attention and money too. While celebrities are the ones who will comment on Lagerfeld that will undoubtedly receive attention, consumers also have a responsibility to be informed and continue from there.
Edited by Whitney Edna Ibe
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