Mourning Karl Lagerfeld: Can You Separate The Artist From The Misogynist?
A shadow has been cast over the world of fashion as people across the globe mourn the loss of Karl Lagerfeld, famed creative director of Chanel and Fendi. Celebrities and fashion lovers alike have taken to social media to express their grief and commemorate Lagerfeld’s renowned creative career. However, on the other side of the fence, many have brought attention to the designer’s misogynistic, fat-phobic, and racist beliefs which were often put on display through his comments on female beauty.
In a particular online dispute between model and friend of Lagerfeld, Cara Delevingne, and actress-activist, Jameela Jamil, the two quite obviously had conflicting responses to the designer’s passing. Jamil criticized the overwhelming representation of Lagerfeld as a “saint gone-too-soon” as it overlooked his participation in and reproduction of the oppressive systems that dominate both fashion and society as a whole. It is no secret that Lagerfeld discriminated against models who weren’t ultra-thin and equated fatness to ugliness, further perpetuating misogynistic ideals of beauty and body-image. Furthermore, he’s even made comments that normalized rape culture and were vehemently anti-immigration. Clearly, this man wasn’t as perfect as he’s been painted out to be, but the flood of media attention on his death is a prime example of how we continue to glorify our oppressors.
Defendants of Lagerfeld, such as Delevingne, have been quick to denounce criticisms of the late designer, claiming that it’s “too soon” to bring up such topics and that now should be a time to “use love instead of hate”. A comment like this is problematic in and of itself as it inadvertently assumes that oppression and the discussion of it are permissible only at the appropriate time and place. But, systems of oppression, such as racism and misogyny, don’t take time off. They are always in action, everywhere you go.
It seems as though the major issue at hand is that we’ve begun to separate art from politics. Or rather, we’ve been turning the other cheek to the oppressive behaviors of high-profile individuals as to not tarnish their pristine status as a “genius” in their field. The truth is, genius and oppressor are not mutually exclusive categories. Being considered a genius doesn’t make you immune to being an oppressor, and, similarly, choosing to ignore these acts of oppression is the exact toxic complacency that allows oppressors and unjust systems to remain in power. As long as we continue to ignore such problematic behaviors, we continue to bring harm to marginalized populations.
This isn’t to say we cannot mourn the loss of Karl Lagerfeld. It is irrefutable the mark he left on the world of fashion. But we must also accept the reality that he was an oppressive figure as much as he was a creative genius. None of us are perfect and neither was he.
Julia Eunji Choi