Karl Lagerfeld’s legacy must not ignore his fatphobia and misogyny.
This week saw the announcement of the death of “The King of Fashion” and Chanel’s creative director, Karl Lagerfeld. Lagerfeld died on Tuesday in Paris at the age of 85. From Hailee Steinfeld to Kate Bosworth, many have taken to social media to express their sadness at his death, and how the industry has lost one of its icons. Lagerfeld was considered one of the greats in fashion; a genius and a visionary. His death, however, must not overshadow the other controversial and harmful aspects of his personality.
Lagerfeld, to put it bluntly, was fatphobic, racist and misogynistic. Writer and media consultant, Lara Witt, claims he had been able to get away with these qualities due to his eccentric personality. Essentially, Lagerfeld lived out his life making insulting and demeaning comments without consequences as no one dared challenge the “gatekeeper of the industry”.
It is about time for this cloak to be lifted. Yes, Lagerfeld was highly talented and had a good eye for style; but this does not excuse the things he has said over the years. “No one wants to see curvy women on the runway” and “fashion is the healthiest motivation for losing weight” are just some of the comments he has made during his reign as the industry’s leader, in spite of the momentum the body positivity movement has gained in the last decade. He associated feminism with being unattractive, mentioning in an interview that Coco Channel couldn't possibly have been a feminist as she was too attractive.
Perhaps most disturbing of all is that Lagerfeld was a vocal opponent of the Me Too movement. He stated, disgustingly, that if you “didn't want your pants pulled down then don’t become a model”. To match this verbal disregard for the highly important activism this movement completes, he explained how he simply doesn't see the models who have come forward with their stories of sexual assault as reliable, turning the women who made their living as a model into a commodity that he could regard as he pleased.
It should not go unnoticed that on the same day of his passing, plus size model and author Charlie Howard made a concerning post on Instagram. In this she reveals how she found out that the agency that dropped her several years ago for being “too large”, despite being a US size 2, is still forcing girls to lose unhealthy amounts of weight. The agency calls this “toning up”, yet Howard makes it clear that this is simply industry code for fatphobic comments. Clearly some people in the industry are clinging on to the fantasy of unhealthily thin bodies that the 90s created.
No one is trying to take Lagerfeld’s achievements in fashion away from him. The issue here is that his legacy should be a portrait of the man as a whole, and must not only include his fashion influences at Chanel and Fendi. The man was not a saint, so to paint him as one in his passing is counter-productive to the causes he blatantly insulted. Despite the rise of activists from the body positivity movement, such as Charlie Howard and Jameela Jamil, the industry still has a way to go. But a step forward for the fashion industry is to remember this man honestly and face the reality of the oppression that followed Karl Lagerfeld.