Arts, Column

Romero: The Met Gala Should Have Reconsidered Its Choice of Honoring Lagerfeld

The 2023 Met Gala is set to honor the late Karl Lagerfeld, a designer famous for his work with a variety of major fashion houses and reviving Chanel as the house’s creative director. Though widely regarded as a legend in the fashion world, the decision to celebrate Lagerfeld at this year’s Met Gala through the theme “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” and the dress code “in honor of Karl” has sparked backlash due to controversial remarks and actions Lagerfeld made before his death. 

The Met Gala, hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, commemorates the opening of the Costume Institute’s annual fashion exhibit. Attended by prominent celebrities, designers, and fashion icons, the event always has a theme and dress code for its attendees, coinciding with the clothing on display within the Costume Institute’s exhibit. 

Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue and one of the chairs of the Gala, approves each year’s theme, which typically centers around various abstract and cultural fashion influences. For example, 2022 and 2021’s respective themes of “In America: An Anthology of Fashion” and “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” centered around the progressivity of American designers and their impact on fashion around the world. But honoring a member of the fashion community in the event’s theme is not unheard of. In years past, the Gala has honored the contributions of Alexander McQueen, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Gianni Versace, and Christian Dior. 

But Largerfeld differs from each of these fashion moguls—his offensive remarks, including Islamophobic comments, derogatory remarks about women’s appearances, and defense of a designer accused of sexual misconduct—outweigh the impacts he made on the fashion world. 

Born in Germany, Lagerfeld moved to Paris in the early ’50s to begin his career in fashion design. In Paris, he launched his career in the fashion world by working as an assistant and apprentice with Pierre Balmain. He grew to serve as a creative eye for a variety of fashion houses throughout his career including Chloé, Valentino, Charles Jourdan, and Fendi. Lagerfeld made a name for himself through his groundbreaking designs, which included the use of mole, rabbit, and squirrel fur and large silhouettes inspired by ’40s and ’50s fashion. Lagerfeld refused to adhere to a singular, uniform style.

In the 1980s, Lagerfeld was tasked with bringing life to the House of Chanel, which had been considered obsolete after the death of the founder Coco Chanel just a decade prior. Credited with the popularization of the interlocked “CC” that Chanel is famous for today, Lagerfeld modernized the previously outdated house’s designs to adhere to the ’80s look, with padded shoulders, higher heels, and shorter hemlines. Paired with the founding of his own eponymous brand, Lagerfeld quickly became a household name, beloved and admired by many, including Wintour. Upon his death in 2019, Wintour released a tribute article about the designer. 

But Lagerfeld’s reputation hinges on more than his innovations within the industry. Ranging from making Islamophobic comments to degrading women’s bodies, Lagerfeld offended many in his time in the spotlight. Most notably, Lagerfeld expressed his distaste for plus-size women in the media and on the runway. 

In 2012, Lagerfeld made fatphobic comments about pop singer Adele. 

“She is a little too fat, but she has a beautiful face and a divine voice,” Lagerfeld said.

Lagerfeld made similar negative remarks about Lana Del Rey, Heidi Klum, and Pippa Middleton’s appearances. 

Lagerfeld also defended the actions of stylist Karl Templer who was accused of sexual misconduct at the height of the #MeToo movement.

“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,” Lagerfeld said. 

In response to the announcement of this year’s Met Gala theme, Jameela Jamil, former star of The Good Place, took to social media to denounce the celebration of Lagerfeld. 

“Why is THIS who we celebrate when there are so many AMAZING designers out who aren’t bigoted white men?” Jamil wrote on her Instagram page. 

Some might argue that post-mortem, celebrating the Met Gala with Lagerfeld as the theme is an honorification of his contributions to the fashion industry rather than who he was as a person or what he stood for. But Lagerfeld’s case presents a larger question. 

Can the artist be separated from their art?

This question has become increasingly prominent among fans of canceled celebrities, such as Alexander Wang, J.K. Rowling, and Kanye West. While these artists have a tangible product to be consumed, the Met Gala celebrates more than just a product—it celebrates a legacy. 

To dedicate fashion’s biggest night of the year to Lagerfeld sends the message to attendees, onlookers, and those working within the fashion industry that all that matters in life is the glitz and glamor of success rather than treating others with respect and dignity. Holding Lagerfeld accountable for his errors starts with acknowledging who he was beyond his accomplishments in the fashion industry. With that in mind, I have one message for the Met Gala: do better.

February 6, 2023