The Life of Karl Lagerfeld: the Good, the Bad, and the Controversial

Last Tuesday, February 19th, the fashion world was shocked by the news of Karl Lagerfeld’s death. Lagerfeld was best known as Chanel’s creative director – a position he had maintained since 1983. 

Lagerfeld’s impact was so profound that it extended far beyond just the fashion industry. He was an innovator and made fashion fun again. He crossed lines and pushed boundaries that other creative directors had not yet had the courage to explore, making his runway shows creative, iconic, and unique from anyone else’s. All eyes were on Chanel during his reign. With his help, Chanel was once again the powerhouse of the fashion industry and it became reminiscent of the original spunk that Coco established. 

Though regarded as one of the fashion industry’s most beloved, it is no secret that Karl Lagerfeld was one of the more controversial figures in the fashion industry, going as far as publicly fat shaming women, dismissing the #MeToo movement, and making racist comments among other things. 

I first learned about Lagerfeld’s death when I checked Instagram and saw celebrities and friends alike posting about how heartbroken they were to hear of his passing. Outspoken celebrities like Zendaya and Yara Shahidi posted about their mourning of the fashion world’s most prized designer and icon. While death is always unfortunate and saddening, I found it interesting that celebrities and fashion enthusiasts were quick to dismiss all of Lagerfeld’s wrongdoings over the years upon his passing. 

His scandal with Heidi Klum was a focal point of the media in 2009, as he called her “too heavy” after she appeared on the cover of GQ. He went on to call Adele “a little too fat,” and critiqued Pippa Middleton’s appearance, saying, “Kate Middleton is ok, but I don’t like the sister’s face.” 

His critiques of not only celebrities but the general public are so damaging, especially in an industry that places a heavy emphasis on aesthetics and appearance. 

Don’t get me wrong, as someone who is deeply interested in the fashion industry, I respect Lagerfeld’s inventiveness and originality when it comes to his time at Chanel, but I cannot respect someone who blatantly disregards the very people that keep him in business. 

I couldn’t help but wonder if people really understood all that Lagerfeld encapsulated when they posted Instagram stories claiming how “broken” and “dejected” they were over his death. Why are we suddenly dismissing his scandals and placing him on some pedestal like he is an ethereal being? Why did he get off the hook and continue to get praise throughout his career despite his toxic comments?

The truth is that people are scared to speak out against Lagerfeld or his position at Chanel because they hope to hop on the coattails of his fame and uphold a good name for a brand most people can’t even afford. 

As of right now, the fashion industry is currently doing more harm than good for women’s self esteem. Many designers, including the late Gianni Versace, have advocated for diversity on the runway in terms of body type, race, etc. The fashion industry needs more people with this mindset if we hope to make any sort of progress. 

Lagerfeld got off scot-free for the majority of his transgressions, but others in the industry don’t have to. It’s important to hold brands, designers, and influencers accountable for their actions and words, especially when they are as damaging as Lagerfeld’s were. While he took Chanel 10 steps forward in terms of design and creativity, he set the fashion industry back 20 for his perception of how he thought people should look. 

It is valid to mourn Lagerfeld for the icon he was, but let us not forget the controversies he stirred up throughout his lifetime. He is certainly someone we can take notes and learn from for future reference. 

With the death of Karl Lagerfeld came the need to appoint a new creative director of Chanel, which ended up being granted to Virginie Viard. She has been the Director of Chanel’s Fashion Creation Studio and has worked closely with Lagerfeld for many years.

Lagerfeld’s passing indicates the end of an era for Chanel, but we look forward to seeing all that Virginie has in store for the brand in the years to come. 

Written and Edited by: Kami Strander

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