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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

May is the month of Karl Lagerfeld, but is it deserved?

Karl Lagerfeld is pictured.

Karl Lagerfeld believed that fashion did not belong in a museum and yet this year’s Met Gala theme is “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty,” and the dress code is “in honor of Karl.” Not only is Lagerfeld being honored at the Met Gala, but also by Vogue — the issue is titled “Karl Lagerfeld: A Celebration.” Many of his muses grace the cover and the issue features an elaborate tribute in which ten designers created original looks inspired by Lagerfeld and his work. With all this attention on Lagerfeld, his problematic history has risen to the forefront of the debate about whether or not he should be receiving these honors and high praises. 

Lagerfeld has an extensive history of making controversial and problematic comments. In the past, he has been criticized for his comments about women’s bodies, specifically being fatphobic. Additionally, the designer came under fire for comments about the #MeToo movement and his attitude toward migrants and LGBTQ+ rights. There are plenty of articles detailing exactly what Lagerfeld said in relation to these issues, but the overarching takeaway is that he was highly controversial and made offensive comments toward certain marginalized groups. 

Even through all this controversy, Lagerfeld will be dominating the fashion industry for the month of May with his Vogue tribute and the Met Gala. In a letter released with the May issue of Vogue, Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue and host of the Met Gala, acknowledged the role she played in making both of these feats possible. Wintour writes, “I know he would have loved being recognized” in reference to the Gala and “This was quite a project, one with a complexity and ambition that Karl would have approved of” in reference to the Vogue issue. 

While previous Met Galas have honored designers, it has not happened since 2017 with Rei Kawakubo and her work for Commes des Garçons. When looking at exhibits before 2018, the most attended were, in order from most attended to least, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” “China: Through the Looking Glass,” “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology” and “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty.” The only theme focusing on an individual designer that makes this list is McQueen, suggesting designer-focused exhibits and themes are not as popular. 

Though Lagerfeld has a controversial history, it is impossible to deny the impact he had on the fashion industry, with a career spanning multiple brands and establishing an undeniable legacy. Lagerfeld held positions at Chloé, Fendi and his own brand, but when many fashion enthusiasts think of him, their first thought is Chanel. 

Serving as creative director of Chanel from 1983 until his passing, Lagerfeld modernized the brand and ultimately saved it from financial collapse. Lagerfeld found a way to take the classic symbols of Chanel, such as tweed and their monogram, and incorporate them into more trendy, modern pieces. Furthering the brand’s iconography, Lagerfeld created the interlocking C monogram that appears on countless bags today.

When it came to the runway, Lagerfeld created elaborate, immersive shows and set a new bar for what was possible at fashion shows. Without his creativity and forward-thinking vision, Chanel, as we know it today, would not exist — a true testament to his impact on not just Chanel, but luxury brands as a whole. 

Besides being a revolutionary designer for various brands, Lagerfeld was an icon in his own right. Almost always sporting a suit and sunglasses, Lagerfeld’s look was one of his defining traits — so if you see numerous attendees of this year’s Met Gala arrive in suits and sunglasses, just know they are on theme. Lagerfeld even found a way to turn his beloved cat, Choupette, into an icon as well. 

Choupette is a necessary aspect of Lagerfeld’s legacy to discuss and that is not just because he wrote her into his will, setting aside a small fortune to ensure she could still live a lavish lifestyle after his passing. Thanks to Lagerfeld, Choupette garnered fame and fortune, becoming a model herself; Lagerfeld claimed she once made 3 million euros for two ad campaigns. Think of her not as a nepo baby but as a nepo cat. 

Lagerfeld’s legacy will continue to live on for decades to come. He was a visionary who brought his creativity to every brand and project he worked on. His past controversies bring up the age-old question: Can we separate the art from the artist?

While his work is no doubt iconic, a Met Gala and Vogue tribute issue seems a bit much for someone so problematic. Designer-themed Met Galas are not always the strongest, but that is more a critique of Anna Wintour and those involved in the process of picking the theme than Lagerfeld. As the first Monday in May quickly approaches, it will be interesting to see how the Gala plays out and what looks will grace the carpet. If anything, tune in for Choupette on the carpet — yes, she received an invite and it’s rumored that she will attend.