The Controversy of Karl Lagerfeld

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By Miranda Smith, Third Year History of Art

Miranda Smith dissects the problematic legacy of Karl Lagerfeld in the wake of the #MeToo movement

It has now been almost ten days since the fashion world was devastated by the death of Karl Lagerfeld, designer for Chanel, Fendi, and his own namesake brand. Having read many articles regarding his genius and the incredible nature of his designs and his artistic flair, I think it is time to breach the barrier and bring to light some of his less than popular opinions.

>“If you don’t want your pants pulled about, don’t become a model! Join a nunnery”

Although many deem it inconsiderate to speak ill of the dead it is important to balance out his positive attributes alongside several that have been swept under the carpet, purely because of the scope of his genius and influence on fashion.

There is no denying that his time at the helm of Chanel, all 36 years in the position, as well as his work for Fendi and the creation of his own brand all attest to his brilliance and his aptitude toward design, there was a dark side to the designer, one which needs to be mentioned to give a balanced review of his life, his work and his attitudes.

In an interview with Numero magazine, he not only talks derogatively about male models, but blatantly shows a disregard for victims of sexual assault within the industry. He is quoted defending Karl Templer who was accused of pulling down models’ underwear without consent, stating “if you don’t want your pants pulled about, don’t become a model! Join a nunnery.” It is the dismissive nature of comments like this that is dangerous as he flippantly refuses to acknowledge the severity of the accusations.

The additional problem is that because of the fame surrounding Karl and his legacy, that opinions such as this are ignored by many. There is a kind of “Oh Karl” attitude where his genius almost allowed him to get away with controversial statements because of the ‘bigger picture’ that was his raging success and his extensive influence on the industry.

His statements disregarding sexual harassment alienate those who can not handle that kind of behaviour by normalizing it and making it seem as though those who spoke up about their experiences were the ones who were in the wrong.

He further appears to negate the importance of women speaking up about assault - “what shocks me most in all of this are the starlets who have taken 20 years to remember what happened”, as though if you recount something later in life it diminishes the significance and the problematic nature of the offence, as well as reducing the credibility of the victim. He adds, “not to mention the fact that there are no prosecution witnesses” which highlights a widespread problem in the industry, where this kind of incident has been covered up with people either too scared to come forward with their stories, or worried that it might act as a death sentence to their career.

With someone like Karl who held so much sway, speaking up against him would have done just that. There is, however, a growing interest in the protection of models, with new regulations set in place by Conde Nast regarding the age of models and supervision of them during photoshoots and casting appointments. This comes after a number of photographers including Mario Testino and Bruce Weber were accused of sexual assault alongside Karl Templer. All three strenuously deny the allegations made against them.

In terms of what he said about the male models backstage, he suggests that they are not worthy of being assaulted, as though it is some form of compliment to have had that experience. He describes them as “skinny things with wonky teeth” and adds that “they certainly don’t run the risk of getting harassed.” Again we see him discrediting the severity of assault.

It has also been documented that he was disrespectful towards women of different body types, saying that “no one wants to see curvy women” in fashion. It is disappointing to see someone with so much influence speaking so openly and pejoratively about women of different body types.

I think it is important to take all of this into account when celebrating the legacy of someone so prolific. I do not believe that it is in poor taste to state all the facts about someone’s life and opinions upon their death, but justifiable in order to create a balanced view of the person.

Luckily for everyone, Karl has bluntly said that he “cannot stand Mr Weinstein” as if that makes it all better.

Featured Image: Ersancerik / Instagram


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