The first Monday in May marks one of the biggest fashion events of the year, the Met Gala. Held at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the gala is a charity fundraiser for the museum’s Costume Institute. Tickets to this exclusive, invite-only extravaganza cost a whopping $50,000. For celebrities, it’s a chance to be seen as one of the elites, but for the rest of us, it’s a red-carpet fashion show. Each year, there is a specific theme which dictates the dress code. This years’ theme is facing a fair amount of backlash. Here’s why the 2023 Met Gala theme of Karl Lagerfeld is so controversial.
Who is Karl Lagerfeld?
One of the most well-known fashion designers in the world, Karl Lagerfeld was an icon whose career spanned 60 years before his death in 2019. The German designer was mostly known for his contributions to Chanel and Fendi. Named the creative director for Chanel in the early 80’s, he completely transformed the company, shifting the focus from fragrances to fashion. His unique designs took Chanel from near-failure to the modern, luxury fashion brand we know today.
Anna Wintour once referred to him as the “living soul of fashion” and the 2023 Met Gala theme, Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty, will honor his legacy.
Karl Lagerfeld Controversy
There has been a fair amount of criticism over this year’s theme choice. Despite his expansive influence on the world of couture, Karl Lagerfeld was widely known for a number of problematic views.
1. Criticism of the #MeToo Movement
He was openly critical of the #MeToo movement, saying he was “fed up” with all the accusations. “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. That said I cannot stand Mr. Weinstein.”
In another interview, he took it one step further. Defending Karl Templer, a stylist who was accused of pulling down models’ underwear, he’s quoted as saying, “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.”
Which, you know, is a pretty problematic view.
2. Criticism of Women’s Bodies
He was also extremely critical of plus size women, or really, any women above a size 2, saying, “No one wants to see curvy women.” While other designers started to hire more diverse body types, he maintained a practice of only having extremely thin models in his runway shows.
He also said, “I think that for both women and men, fashion is the healthiest motivation for losing weight.”
On another occasion, he called the singer Adele “a little too fat” before adding, “but she has a beautiful face and divine voice.”
Even more baffling was what he said about Heidi Klum, a former Victoria’s Secret angel. “Heidi Klum is no runway model. She is simply too heavy and has too big a bust.”
3. Use of Blackface
Along with being a designer, he was a photographer and in 2008, he shot an ad campaign featuring Claudia Schiffer, one of his muses. In one of the photographs, she appears in blackface with darkened skin and an afro.
Considering that he was gay himself, it’s a little surprising that Karl Lagerfeld was so anti-LGBTQ. At one point, he was against gay marriage. Eventually, he supported gay marriage, but was against LGBTQ adoptions, particularly amongst gay men.
“For me it’s difficult to imagine — one of the papas at work and the other at home with the baby. How would that be, for the baby? I don’t know. I see more lesbians married with babies than I see boys married with babies. And I also believe more in the relationship between mother and child than in that between father and child.”
Will the Karl Lagerfeld Theme be Boring?
Karl Lagerfeld considered himself a dressmaker, not an artist. In fact, in a 2016 documentary about the Met Gala, he said, “It’s a little boring when designers say they are artists, especially when they say it themselves.”
But the whole point of the Met Gala is to showcase how fashion is art (and vice versa). On top of that, he’s known mostly for his contributions to Chanel and Fendi, which are far more commercial than other couture brands.
Compare this, then, to the 2017 Met Gala theme, Rei Kawakubo: Art of the In-Between. The theme that year was in honor of Rei Kawakubo, a Japanese designer known for her high-fashion, avant-garde designs.
Her work is truly artistic and visionary, the opposite of the classic, understated style of Chanel. And, although Chanel certainly holds more commercial appeal, the Met Gala is not meant to be commercial. It’s meant to be over-the-to and extravagant.
The 2017, Rei Kawakubo-inspired gala was just that, and it was all the better for it.