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Commemorating Karl Lagerfeld's Controversial Legacy

Updated: Apr 10, 2019

Written by Lola Motley

Illustration by Elisha Osemobor



In Controversy & Couture, staff writer Lola Motley dissects the places in pop culture where fashion and politics cross paths, tackling important questions for the world of style.

On Tuesday, February 19, fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld passed away. With his death comes a dilemma not at all new to mass media: how do we mourn problematic people? Accounts of his life unanimously recognize the great work Lagerfeld did for the fashion industry during his work as the creative director for Chanel, Fendi, and his own line. However, some accounts are more critical of the negative effect he had on those within the industry.


Lagerfeld’s references to women’s bodies were generally abhorrent throughout his lifetime. In today’s more progressive era, many designers have stopped actively voicing their defense of homogeneously thin runway models. Lagerfeld, however, was an active proponent that “no one wants to see curvy women.” When statements like these received objection, he claimed it was out of jealousy from “fat mummies” watching the runway on TV.


In response to the #MeToo movement and outcries from models of sexual harassment in the fashion industry, Lagerfeld responded with the shocking statement, “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.”


Responses to his death have been varied, as there isn’t exactly a right answer about how to react. Cara Delevingne, a close friend to Lagerfeld, for example, wrote a tweet acknowledging his problematic past but stressed the need to move forward, saying “We should be talking about the people alive, in power, ruling the world who are hurting, destroying far more lives than this man who has passed only yesterday.”


Actress Jameela Jamil, on the other hand, critiqued the way many had excused his behavior following his death and were treating him as a “saint gone to soon.” Times like this do make you wonder: if mourning must come with forgiveness, and further, what are the implications of letting go of the past?