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Why was the Karl Lagerfeld Met Gala theme so controversial? Designer’s accusations and problematic comments

The 2023 Met Gala theme will centre around the Costume Institute’s exhibit: ‘Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty’

Chelsea Ritschel
New York
Tuesday 02 May 2023 16:11 BST
Karl Lagerfeld: Most controversial moments

The 2023 Met Gala theme will pay tribute to Karl Lagerfeld, a decision that has prompted criticism and the reemergence of the late fashion designer’s most controversial moments.

Vogue, which hosts the annual star-studded fashion extravaganza at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, announced in September 2022 the theme for the 2023 event would be “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty”.

In January, Vogue shared additional details about the theme of the gala, and the Costume Institute’s corresponding exhibition, with the fashion outlet revealing that the theme will “examine the life - and creative legacy - of the late designer, who shaped the face of fashion for more than half a century,” and that the official dress code for the 1 May event will be “in honour of Karl”.

The widely celebrated German designer, who died in 2019 at the age of 85, was best known for his work as the creative director of the French fashion house Chanel, a position he held from 1983 until his death. Lagerfeld was also the creative director of Fendi and his eponymous Karl Lagerfeld label.

While his legacy and contributions to the fashion industry live on, the designer’s highly controversial opinions and beliefs have also resurfaced in light of the museum and Vogue’s upcoming tribute.

Jameela Jamil was among those who condemned the choice, with the actress taking to Instagram to criticise the “distinctly hateful” way Lagerfeld used his platform to attack marginalised groups and public figures throughout his career.

“This man... was indeed, supremely talented, but used his platform in such a distinctly hateful way, mostly towards women, so repeatedly and up until the last years of his life, showing no remorse, offering no atonement, no apology, no help to groups he attacked... there was no explanation for his cruel outbursts,” Jamil wrote.

From his fatphobic and body-shaming comments to his controversial opinions about the MeToo Movement, migrants and LGBTQ rights, these are some of Lagerfeld’s most contentious moments.

While Lagerfeld was known for making questionable comments, perhaps his most problematic were those rooted in fatphobia.

As his peers and the fashion industry began to move towards a more inclusive world, Lagerfeld chose to continue using models who were thin to showcase his designs. When asked in 2012 by Channel 4 whether he had a responsibility to the public to hire women who did not look unhealthy, the German designer said: “There are less than one per cent of anorexic girls. But there are zero in France, I don’t know in England - over 30 per cent of girls [are] big, big, overweight. And that is much more dangerous and very bad for the health. So I think today, with the junk food in front of TV, it’s something dangerous for the health of the girl. The models are skinny, but they’re not that skinny. All the new girls are not that skinny.”

The response was far from the only time that Lagerfeld engaged in fat-phobic commentary. He claimed a year later, on an episode of Le Grand 8 on French television channel D8, that “the hole in social security, it’s also [due to] all the diseases caught by people who are too fat” and that “no one wants to see curvy women on the runway”.

The comments sparked backlash at the time, with Vogue reporting that a women’s group in France had filed a defamation claim against Lagerfeld over his statements.

In addition to his frequent fat-shaming, the designer also directed his fatphobia at notable individuals, including Adele. “She is a little too fat, but she has a beautiful face and a divine voice,” he told Metro in 2012. While later apologising for his comments, Lagerfeld said that he had actually been referring to Lana Del Rey.

“I’d like to say to Adele that ‘I am your biggest admirer,’” he told Metro. “Sometimes when you take a sentence out of the article it changes the meaning of the thought. What I said was in relation to Lana Del Rey and the sentence has since been taken out of context from how it was originally published.”

Lagerfeld also publicly criticised former supermodel Heidi Klum, who he once said was “simply too heavy and has too big a bust”.

During his lifetime, the designer also sparked widespread backlash with his remarks about the MeToo Movement, a campaign that he revealed in 2018 he was “fed up” with.

“I’m fed up with it...What shocks me most in all of this are the starlets who have taken 20 years to remember what happened,” he said during an interview with Numero magazine. “Not to mention the fact there are no prosecution witnesses.”

At the time, Lagerfeld also defended Karl Templar, the creative director at Interview magazine, from sexual misconduct allegations. Lagerfeld claimed that he didn’t “believe a single word of it” and alleged that models should pursue other professions if they don’t “want [their] pants pulled about”.

“A girl complained he tried to pull her pants down and he is instantly excommunicated from a profession that up until then had venerated him. It’s unbelievable,” he said. “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!”

Lagerfeld’s controversial beliefs also extended to his opinions on LGBTQ rights. In 2010, while speaking to Vice, Lagerfeld suggested that he was against same-sex marriage.

“I’m against [same-sex marriage] for a very simple reason: In the 60s, they all said we had the right to the difference. And now, suddenly, they want a bourgeois life,” Lagerfeld told the outlet. “For me it’s difficult to imagine - one of the papas at work and the other at home with the baby. How would that be for the baby? I don’t know. I see more lesbians married with babies than I see boys married with babies. And I also believe more in the relationship between mother and child than in that between father and child.”

While Lagerfeld later expressed his support for the legalisation of same-sex marriage, he revealed he was “less keen” on gay couples being allowed to adopt.

The late designer also had a history of controversial statements about migrants and once criticised Angela Merkel, the former chancellor of Germany, for opening the country’s borders.

“One cannot - even if there are decades between them - kill millions of Jews so you can bring millions of their worst enemies in their place,” he told the French TV show Salut les Terriens! in 2017, according to The Guardian. “I know someone in Germany who took a young Syrian and after four days said: ‘The greatest thing Germany invented was the Holocaust.’”

Lagerfeld also made a number of generally offensive comments throughout his career, with the designer alleging that Kim Kardashian should not have been “surprised” she was robbed at gunpoint in 2016 because she’d displayed her “wealth”.

“I don’t understand why she was in a hotel with no security. If you are that famous and you put all your jewellery on [social media], you go to hotels where nobody can come near to the room,” he told reporters. “You cannot display your wealth and then be surprised that some people want to share it with you.”

In 2001, he claimed that individuals who wear sweatpants did so because they’d “lost control”. “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants,” he said, according to Vogue.

Despite his controversial past, the fashion world mourned Lagerfeld’s death in 2019. Vogue’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, who is in charge of nearly every detail of the annual Met Gala, revealed that she “bawled” when she learned of the designer’s passing.

Anna Wintour revealed she ‘bawled’ when she learned of Karl Lagerfeld’s passing (Getty)

“I was in an airport reading all of the papers, the obituaries, sitting next to a very unfashionable man, in a checkered shirt, you know, and I just started to bawl,” Wintour recalled during an interview at the Women in the World Summit 2019. “[The man] just started silently handing me kerchiefs. I said: ‘Thank you for being so kind’ and he said ‘Madam, the world has lost a great figure.’ Even he felt the loss. Karl was just this force. There was no one, there is no one like Karl; he was a completely exceptional person.”

The Independent has contacted Vogue for comment.

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