Lagerfeld; Genius or Problem?

Following his recent passing, Georgia Prichard explains why we must not separate Karl Lagerfeld‘s art from his damaging opinions.

After his recent passing, Karl Lagerfeld has been remembered for his ‘genius’ and creativity by the House of Chanel and famous models such as Cara Delevingne, Adwoa Aboah and Victoria Beckham. He was remembered as a friend and family member by those close to him, and rightly so. People were in mourning for someone who had impacted and changed their lives or made their career. However, the term ‘genius’, which has been bestowed upon Lagerfeld, has come under attack, particularly by women. It seemed that his highly-esteemed position in the fashion industry made him untouchable, even when his ideas of unattainable beauty went against the very basis of fashion – to liberate and express.

There are many reasons as to why Lagerfeld is crowned a ‘genius’, the most obvious being that he is a man. The term ‘genius’ is tainted with a misogynistic undertone, given to men such as Van Gogh, Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury, Stan Lee or Mac Miller who all have two things in common; their creativity in the arts and that they have died. There is no biological or scientific reasoning that these men are deemed a ‘genius’, it is purely based on sex. Now, I am not denying their talent – I love Mac Miller’s music – but I can’t help but point out that there are plenty of women who have passed away and their talent has gone unnoticed.

For Lagerfeld, however, it goes deeper than this. His approach and treatment of women, and his abusive discourse towards women he deemed too fat or too old, is everything that is wrong with the fashion industry. He was shamed only the day after his death by feminist Jameela Jamil, who tweeted that Lagerfeld was “a ruthless, fat-phobic, misogynist.” All true, but certainly there is a time and a place for this comment, and a day after someone’s passing is neither of these.

There was certainly an out-pouring of grief for Lagerfeld by those who worked closely with him, mostly by women, and yet Jamil stood strong and called out women such as Cara Delevingne who claimed Lagerfeld was a “human-being“ who made “mistakes.” I ask, how much longer can we wipe someone’s slate clean? How much longer will this excuse last? 

The argument that we should let Lagerfeld pass on with a reputation which ignores his racist and misogynist nature cannot be excusable just because he is no longer here to defend himself, because I am sure, he would not. Just because he has gone, and there are many other people in the world who are hurting and attacking people’s lives, does not mean that Lagerfeld should be excluded from the long list of powerful individuals who thrive on hierarchy, money and hate.

Throughout his career, there was out-cry over his hateful comments, so why should we celebrate his achievements? Well, surely the argument goes both ways? If we remember Lagerfeld for his callous actions during his career, we must also recognise that Lagerfeld did not only make himself a huge success, but brands we acknowledge now as utterly desirable – Chanel, of course!

In any case, when women have to fight everyday to claim a right to their own bodies, to the way they want to dress, look and feel, I believe that Lagerfeld’s reputation will forever be tainted by his hateful words, and this is something we cannot blame on age or generation. Even as the fashion industry progressed into something – slightly – more inclusive, Lagerfeld, still a member of the House of Chanel, continued to attack the modern woman on her size, colour, and age – perhaps in fear of her growing power.

Image: Hollywood Reporter