Fashion legend Karl Lagerfeld died on Feb. 19 at the age of 85. He was described in a New York Times Style Magazine profile as “maddening and brilliant.” Others, however, have described him much more harshly.
His death launched a debate: should we separate the art from the artist? And at what point does criticizing the character of a public figure infringe upon a family’s grief?
Lagerfeld was known as the creative director of the French fashion house Chanel, Italian fashion house Fendi, and his own line Karl Lagerfeld. He was known for his signature white-hair ponytail, black sunglasses, fingerless gloves, high collars and feline companion Choupette – who is rumoured to have inherited Lagerfeld’s $300-million fortune.
While he was largely respected in the fashion world as a brilliant, innovative artist and creative, he is also known for his offensive commentary.
He has made several comments about celebrities’ bodies and weight, most notably suggesting singer Adele, while talented, was “too fat,” and Pippa Middleton, sister of the Duchess of Cambridge, should “only show her back” as she has an “ugly face.”
He also stated that Coco Chanel wasn’t a feminist because she “wasn’t ugly enough for that.”
As for the #MeToo movement, he claimed: “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. They’re recruiting even!”
The above is just a sample of the many objectionable comments he made throughout his 60-plus-year career.
Actress Jameela Jamil shared an article to Twitter entitled “Stop Mourning Oppressors” and wrote: “I’m glad somebody said it. Even if it is a little soon. A ruthless, fat-phobic misogynist shouldn’t be posted all over the internet as a saint gone-too-soon.”
The fashion industry is hardly a barometer for social justice or morality, as it is an industry built upon a narrow ideal of beauty.
However, Lagerfeld was never held accountable for his comments in life and many feel he should be held accountable, even in death. Many models and close friends of the designer felt the reckoning was disrespectful and ill-timed.
Ultimately, abusive stereotypes in industry are perpetuated by men like Lagerfeld, and his wealth and status allowed him to be titled controversial or maddening as opposed to misogynistic and harmful.
There is a societal tendency to hail those in the public eye as saints when they die and focus on the art rather than the artist. But, in order for change to be made, I believe it is vital we do not separate art from artist, but hold artists accountable for their actions.
Lagerfeld is a representation of the fashion industry at large, its capacity to create beautiful art, and its capacity to perpetuate extremely harmful beauty ideals. Perhaps if he treated women with the same adoration he had for his cat, Choupette, the fashion industry would have a more positive impact.
Jennifer Hamilton is a local student and writer.