On February 19th, the fashion industry lost one of its greatest icons, Karl Lagerfeld, at age 85 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. Calling Lagerfeld the successful director of fashion houses Fendi and Chanel would be quite the understatement. His designs turned Chanel back into a billion-dollar brand, and his personal style transformed the entire industry. This eccentric designer is certainly memorable, not only because of his pioneering strides in major fashion houses, but because of his loud personality and controversial comments regarding body image, the #MeToo movement, and several other topics.
To share a glimpse into Lagerfeld’s accomplishments, in his early career he had full-time work with French designer Pierre Balmain, first as a junior assistant, and later as an apprentice. He later went on to design collections for Chloe and Fendi, quickly becoming a star in the industry. Eventually, Lagerfeld salvaged Chanel, which was a dying brand at the time; many did not think this was at all possible. Despite Lagerfeld’s large triumphs and the outpouring of love he has received from celebrities and fans since his death, it is difficult for me to brush aside the Islamophobic, racist, and sexist comments he has made throughout his career. He called Adele “a little too fat” in 2012, said Heidi Klum was more “bling bling” than fashion in 2009, and engaged in several other controversial debates throughout his long-standing career.
When the world loses such an influential, yet controversial figure, it is often questioned whether or not we as consumers should be able to enjoy the icon’s work, and essentially separate the art from the artist. It is valid and important to recognize and even admire the hard work and beautiful creations of Karl Lagerfeld. As someone who adores and appreciates fashion, it is honestly difficult to avoid his successes altogether, and even scroll through Instagram without witnessing his reign. However, I am personally cautious of his praise, and believe we shouldn’t elevate the designer to a hero-like status and idealize the prejudices that he certainly possessed. We need to remember Karl Lagerfeld as he truly was, an iconic designer, yet acknowledge his true faults, and be careful not to cloud the two separate entities.
COVER PHOTO: The Cut