This year’s Met Gala theme is a big mistake: We shouldn’t be celebrating Karl Lagerfeld

OPINION: Why you can’t separate the problem from a 'problematic genius'.

·3-min read


Each year, one of the world’s most prestigious fashion events, The Met Gala, celebrates fashion’s brightest stars with a dedicated exhibition overseen by Vogue’s most recognisable editor, Anna Wintour.

This year, Vogue and Wintour have chosen to honour one of fashion’s most controversial figures – albeit, also one of its most talented – in the late Karl Lagerfeld. Lagerfeld made his name early in his career at both Chloé and Fendi, but is best known for his 36-year tenure as creative director at Chanel – a position he held up until his death in 2019.

But perhaps just as well-known as Lagerfeld’s designs were his problematic views on everything from women and feminism, to appropriation, sexual assault and gay marriage. The fashion industry for the most part – and in particular, Vogue – appeared to ignore most of Lagerfeld’s troubling opinions, continuing to celebrate him for his artistry despite his growing legacy of highly offensive comments.

Karl Lagerfeld
This year, the Met Gala will honour the late Karl Lagerfeld. Photo: Getty Images

For most of us watching from the sidelines, it was clear Lagerfeld had a distaste for “normal” women. Even as a new wave of #metoo-powered feminism geared up for its social media-powered explosion across the world, he appeared to defend sexual assault, and created a mock feminist rally for his 2014 runway, all the while making fatphobic, sexist comments like: “No one wants to see round women [in fashion]”, and that it’s “fat mummies sitting with their bags of crisps in front of the television, saying that thin models are ugly.”


The controversy didn’t stop there. His offensive interview quotes were wide-ranging, declaring that gay men shouldn’t have children, and that Adele was “a little too fat”. He sent flowers to an accused rapist, and was called out for everything from a love of fur to cultural appropriation – having delivered a Native American “inspired” show, featuring white models wearing native headdresses, in (of all places) Dallas, Texas.

But the fashion industry has a short memory for even the most problematic of its brightest stars. I can’t help but wonder , will the Native American designs be featured in the Met Gala’s exhibition? Or politely ignored in the same way that Chanel’s sordid Nazi connections were mostly ignored in the recent Chanel x NGV exhibition?

Stars on the Met Gala red carpet
The Met Gala is one of the most prestigious events on the fashion calendar. Photo: Getty Images
Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld
Vogue Editor in Chief Anna Wintour sits beside Karl Lagerfeld. Photo: Getty Images

Should we be celebrating the legacy of Karl Lagerfeld, someone who used his platform in a repeatedly problematic and often hateful way? Lagerfeld was a visionary designer, but his complex personal legacy far outweighs the importance of honouring his talent posthumously in a room full of people who uphold the very status quo his disturbing commentary played into. His damaging views were too often glossed over in favour of front row seats by the same people now set to celebrate him all over again.

This latest Met Gala theme should instead serve as a reflection on the abundance of the “problematic creative genius” trope in pop culture. From Woody Allen, to Hugh Hefner, to Chris Brown, many are quick to defend a strong creative legacy – even in the worst of circumstances – no matter what the cost.

Yes, Karl was a genius, but he was far from perfect – and the Met Gala’s choice to celebrate him sadly favours an expensive party decorated with his work over the chance to ignite some tough conversations about an industry that often ignores its responsibility to stamp out malignant behaviour.

Aren’t there any unproblematic designers left that we can celebrate instead?

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