For over three decades, Karl Lagerfeld was the face of one of the world’s most powerful fashion houses, CHANEL. The silver hair pulled back into a sleek ponytail, a black-tie around the collar of his turtleneck. And his black aviators always covering his eyes and his cat – Choupette in his hand. This was the man whose ideologies changed fashion and won him universal acclaim. Although, it had its limits!
19th of February 2019, the House of Chanel announced that Karl Lagerfeld passed away at the age of 85. Millions and millions of people, including models, fashion designers paid homage to the late designer on social media platforms. Italian fashion designer, Donatella Versace talked about Lagerfeld’s influence on her late brother Gianni Versace on Instagram. Noting, “Karl your genius touched the lives of so many, especially Gianni and I… We were always learning from you.”
The German creative director spent a major part of his life in Paris. He was famous for his many talents as a designer, artist, photographer, and caricaturist. He worked for the Italian luxury brand Fendi in 1967. Later he became the creative director for Chanel in 1983.
Many Hollywood stars wore his creations on the red carpet. On his passing, supermodels like Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner paid tribute to him on social media. Remarking they would miss his incredible presence. But will we not talk about the controversies that encircled him?
A man who was an icon of the ‘80s and ‘90s fashion has said some insensitive things about women’s bodies. For instance, when Heidi Klum posed naked on GQ magazine’s cover in 2009 Lagerfeld stated that she couldn’t be a runway model because she was too heavy and had a big bust!
A few years back, he was asked about staying healthy in the fashion industry, to which he simply said, “Vanity is the healthiest thing in life.” He was also open about his drastic weight loss. While most people today would treat it as an eating disorder, many people in the industry romanticize this very concept. In 2010, he said, “Well, there came this new line from Hedi Slimane at Dior that you needed to be slim to wear. It said: ‘You want this? Go back to your bones.’ And so I lost it all. I lost 88 pounds and never got them back.”
On a different note, Lagerfeld didn’t avoid commenting on other men. “The worst is ugly short men,” he said in 2003. “Women can be short, but for men it is impossible. It is something that they will not forgive in life – to be born short. I have never been friends with a short man in my life. Don’t trust them; they are mean, and they want to kill you.”
During the period when Lagerfeld was working for Fendi; being a fur and leather company, it was certain the company would run into animal rights issues in those 52 years. There was this one very specific line that Lagerfeld used, “It is farmers who are nice to the cows and the pigs and then kill them. It’s even more hypocritical than hunters. At least the hunters don’t flatter the animals.”
He voiced his opinions in annoyance about the #MeToo movement, a movement that raised incredible awareness about the prevalence of sexual abuse and harassment. He was also criticized for defending Karl Templer, a widely known fashion stylist who pulled a model’s underwear off without consent. Lagerfeld later spoke on the issue, “If you don’t want your pants pulled about, don’t become a model! Join a nunnery, there’ll always be a place for you in the convent.” It didn’t take much time for the public to retaliate and chastise Lagerfeld for his disdainful remark.
Karl Lagerfeld’s legacy and the entirety of his character needs to be acknowledged and talked about openly. Not only his accomplishments and his impact on the industry but also the history of racist and sexist remarks. Indeed, he had a massive influence through his legacy but through glorifying a man with ideals that society is coming to see as unjust, it’s important to ask if our society is accepting these social injustices freely?