The Life, Legacy, and Controversy of Karl Lagerfeld

Last week on February 19th, Chanel’s artistic director, Fendi’s creative director, and one of fashion’s most notable powerhouses, Karl Lagerfeld, passed away in Paris at the age of 85. For many, it was a complete shock, shaking the foundations of the fashion industry. There is no denying his substantial impact on the fashion world – but many forget to also consider his controversial statements and approaches over the span of his life.

Contemporarily, what we say and what we stand for are more important than ever. Keeping this in mind, how do we celebrate the legacy of a man with an undeniable, artistic, creative mind – but at the same time a man who was known for his controversial, divisive comments about both men and women, disparaging the #MeToo movement, and critiquing many other minorities? It’s irrefutably difficult to separate the art from the artist and we commonly approach death with a tendency to sanctify the deceased. However, in the direction we are moving, it is unacceptable to praise misogynistic and prejudicial approaches.

Our world is changing, especially the world of fashion, and in my opinion, it is for the better. Inclusivity is the new black. Diversity is the new normal. These are not just trends, these are movements towards a better future for all. With this being the case, it is still possible to recognize and appreciate the creative life and legacy of Lagerfeld, but we cannot exclude the controversy surrounding him. The new path that contemporary designers are taking comes with the mindset of not having time nor patience for antiquated, un-inclusive views. The industry still has much further to go to reach diverse inclusion; high-fashion models beyond size two are typically inexistent on the runway and to make matters worse, they customarily are all white. To reach the point we hope to, views like Lagerfeld’s must not be ignored as they are the ones we are trying to fight.

Karl Lagerfeld made an unquestionable impact on the industry; his creativity was unmatched and artistically, he was a visionary. But outside of this, his views were extremely old-fashioned and too out-of-touch for an industry that is still fighting to see sustainable diversity and inclusion. Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel fashion, said in a statement about Lagerfeld’s, “The greatest tribute we can pay today is to continue to follow the path he traced by - to quote Karl - ‘continuing to embrace the present and invent the future.’” Karl’s eccentricity and artistic influential impact will live through the industry until the end of time, but for the hope of a better future, his contentious ideals will not.