Karl Lagerfeld’s legacy is mixed: alongside the celebrated genius we must also remember the extraordinary version of himself he presented to the world, and the controversial things that person said and did.
By the early 2000’s Lagerfeld was both an industry icon and distinct public personae: he wore a white ponytail and uniform of slim black pants and jacket, starched white shirts with detachable collars, fingerless gloves, and black sunglasses. He was demanding, eccentric, lavish, pencil-thin (via lots of Diet Coke and a diet he then sold). His real estate portfolio boasted properties in Paris, Britta, Hamburg, Biarritz, Manhattan and Vermont; and he collected lavishly. At one point he owned a Red Point Birman cat called Choupette with whom he fell in love and discussed marrying in a 2013 interview. This near caricature version of himself was perhaps his best marketing tool, and it served him well. Everyone knew Karl Lagerfeld, and by extension Chanel and Fendi (ironically, his own line never really succeeded).
It may be the case that the caricature gave the man permission to say and do controversial things that furthered his reputation-Lagerfeld wasn't shy, and everything he did was on brand (even the contentious, unnecessary, unkind things). Time will tell how we view this interplay, between now and then here’s a sample of his more infamous words and deeds:
-Asked about women who object to thin models: "They are fat mummies sitting with their bags of crisps in front of the television, saying that thin models are ugly."
-Speaking about plus-sized models on the catwalk: "No one wants to see curvy women".
-On being fed up with the #metoo movement: "What shocks me most in all of this are the starlets who have taken 20 years to remember what happened. Not to mention the fact there are no prosecution witnesses."
-Expressing disdain for German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her decision to open Germany’s border to refugees: “Did she really need to say it was necessary to welcome one million migrants at a time when France, which casts itself as the land of human rights, pledged to take in 30,000? If this keeps up, I'll abandon German citizenship."
-Accusing Merkel of fostering the right-wing party AfD’s rise to power: "The AfD didn't exist, yet with one sentence she made it exist by alienating two million voters and sending 100 of these neo-Nazis into parliament.”
-Contributed caricature of Adolf Hitler thanking Angel Merkel as part of his work with the monthly magazine supplement to the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Read these if you have a chance, and ponder mixed legacies (I’ve been doing that a lot)-
Thank you to excellent reporting referenced in this blog from: The New York Times, Women’s Wear Daily, The Guardian, The Telegraph….