26 Feb 2019

The divisive life of Karl Lagerfeld

The designer and businessman was the creative director of Chanel for thirty years. While many chose to mourn his passing with heartfelt tributes, others were openly critical about Lagerfeld and his infamously divisive discourse.

Eliza Archer
Eliza Archer NewsMavens, Europe
The divisive life of Karl Lagerfeld - NewsMavens
Karl Lagerfeld, Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

Karl Lagerfeld, born in Germany in 1933, the world-renowned fashion designer passed away early last week. The designer and businessman was creative director of Chanel for almost thirty years. While many chose to mourn his passing with heartfelt tributes, others were openly critical about Lagerfeld and his infamously divisive discourse.

His controversial views were widely publicised. He believed that “curvy women should not walk the runway” openly critiquing stars, such as Adele and Lana Del Rey for their size.

He was quoted suggesting it was “fat mummies sitting with their bags of crisps in front of the television [that were] saying that thin models are ugly”.

In 2018 he did, however, collaborate with Stitch Fix to expand their classic range to a plus sized audience. Nevertheless, even this move was criticized as a business move rather than a change of heart particularly as similar changes were never introduced at Chanel.

Lagerfeld openly spoke of his fatigue surrounding the #MeToo campaign. When stylist Karl Templer was alleged to have removed models undergarments without their consent, Lagerfeld retorted:

"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."

His controversy was not limited to the world of fashion. He infamously threatened to renounce his German citizenship following Germany’s acceptance of refugees in 2015. Lagerfeld suggested that the acceptance of migrants had fuelled the rise of the far right in Germany and was quoted saying “The greatest thing Germany invented was the Holocaust”.

While there is little debate surrounding his impact on the fashion industry, his death has prompted much discussion. Many are questioning whether an individual can be separated from their art and prompting dialogue around our tributes to divisive figures in society.

Details from the story:

  • Lagerfeld is consistently named as one of the most influential men in the fashion industry and was the creative director of Chanel and Fendi.
  • His death, and the subsequent online tributes, has been divisive.
  • Fashion industry elites such as Donatella Versace and Cara Delevingne posted tributes while actress Jameela Jamil stated that “a ruthless, fat-phobic misogynist shouldn’t be all over the internet as a saint gone-too-soon.”
  • He was outspoken in his desire for catwalks to be manned by slim women.
  • Lagerfeld was an avid supporter of fur, refusing to succumb to pressure to substitute with alternative materials until late last year.
  • In 1994 he was subject of backlash from the Muslim community as he used verses from the Koran as prints on his dresses.
  • Vogue International editor, Suzy Menkes, suggested that “dividing opinion was part of Lagerfeld’s brand”.
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