So Karl Lagerfeld died. That was the moment I realised how many style- and fashion-related profiles I follow on Instagram. Everybody and their second cousin rushed to share their thoughts (and photos, where applicable) of the fashion giant. For a day, it was all sunglasses and dry-shampooed ponytails on my Insta-Feed.
Lagerfeld’s death was also the moment I realised how few people in the real world are bothered by his passing:
Me, hyperventilating in the office corridor: “Karl’s dead! Karl’s dead!”
Colleague: “Sorry who? Oh. I’m sure he touched the lives of many. Snark.”
Karl Lagerfeld did not touch my life. Fashion did. Receiving the news about Lagerfeld’s passing marks the first moment in my life when I have actually spent time thinking about him.
Fashion. So easy to dismiss as a bit of humdrum. Bit of silly, unnecessary, unattainable luxury that is completely out of this world, save for the occasional efforts à la Christian Dior (feminist t-shirts) or Chanel(collections referencing climate change). Unwearable, outlandish, overpriced.
These are precisely the reasons why I love fashion so much. I want to see weird and impractical things. I want to look at expensive garments featuring beading, smocking and lacing so exquisite it makes my eyes water. I want to live in a world where people dedicate their lives for redefining “breathtaking“, year after year. It is comforting to know that there are exceptionally gifted artists, who focus fully on creating universes of astonishing (if unattainable) beauty out of their imaginations and visions, all the while a big part of human race spend their energies exactly on the opposite: spewing (metaphorical) shit all over the place.
Before I continue, I want to make it clear that this is not an obituary of Karl Lagerfeld, neither my personal value judgement of him as an artist or a human being.
Fashion is art, and art is truth. Art is also male.
The world of fashion is not necessarily a girl’s best friend. The illusion of otherworldly beauty often hides eating disorders, unfair employment conditions and having to sustain sexual harassment. The gaze is predominantly male. In the world of fashion man is the creator and woman the muse. Man is the doer and woman the object modelling the haute couture evening gown. Up until now all of the most celebrated fashion designers have been men (with the exception of Coco Chanel). We worship at the altar of male gurus.
The more outlandish the male guru, the more eager we are to hand him the “Get out of jail free” -card. Mental and physical violence become expressions of “temperament”. Sexist comments and humiliating, public insults are shrugged off as “barbs” or doings of a “sharp tongue”.
Christian Dior sacked their chief designer John Galliano in 2011 following his anti-semitic outbursts in Paris. Years of courtroom drama followed, but the first ruling was upheld: expressing anti-semitic ideas is illegal in France, end of story. Galliano is nowadays with Maison Martin Margiela.
It seems to be more complicated with insults targeted at women. So far not a single male designer guru has lost his job for body-shaming women in public. Lagerfeld was notorious for his dislike for curvy women, whom he banned from his runways*. He was irritated at H&M for producing larger sizes of the collection he designed for the clothes chain. He called Adele fat, and suggested that Pippa Middleton should only show her backside to the cameras, as her face is not much to look at.
– “But his contribution to fashion!” you scream. Yes, Lagerfeld was impressive by all counts. Workaholic, visionary, prolific, a legend and an inspiration for many. I cannot say that I will personally miss him (mainly because I never knew him), but his passing did end an era, which to me is epitomised in George Michael’s“Freedom” -video (this also happened to be the era of music videos, which were rather a novelty back then) featuring the first Supermodels Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Tatjana Patitz, Linda Evangelista andCindy Crawford.
I do want the show to go on, honouring Lagerfeld’s impressive legacy and vision. I want to continue to see wacky, larger than life characters who create fearless caricatures of themselves (this is quite possibly because I spend my days sweating in a grey cubicle stressing whether my outfit is office appropriate). Fashion must never become boring and correct. It is art, and it must stretch the limits of good taste.
The post-Lagerfeld era of the world of fashion will continue to be confronted by calls for more ethical and sustainable production. The age-old, sexist master/muse – division of labour is not going to work anymore, either. Dismissing calls for equality in fashion as “turning everything boring” will no longer do. These make for a big circle to square in the secluded fashion universe, where no rules have ever applied.
Virginie Viard, Lagerfeld’s right-hand woman of over 30 years has been passed the helm at Chanel following Lagerfeld’s death. Go to the internet and you will see it’s full of articles starting “Who is Virginie Viard?” and then continuing to wonder “how did she manage to keep such a low profile all those decades?”
Oh well. There is the saying about what’s behind every successful male guru.
* This is of course the case also with many other fashion houses, not just Chanel/Lagerfeld.
Pictured Herbert Ploberger’s painting “Window Shopping”.