Separating Art, Controversy and Celebrity

Do problematic celebrities like Karl Lagerfeld deserve to be mourned?

Andie Bjornsfelt, Contributor

85-year-old German fashion mogul Karl Lagerfeld passed away on Feb. 19. He worked as the creative director for both Chanel and Fendi. Although Lagerfeld was an amazing fashion icon, he said a lot of problematic things in his life, including in response to the uproar that was the #MeToo movement and how many celebrities have been exposed for their past and present sexual abuses. This brings forward a very relevant question we are all faced with today as a public audience is it okay to support a person who has done and said shitty things if they’ve created beautiful, iconic works of art? When it comes to Lagerfeld, the concern is whether or not his masterpieces can be celebrated while still acknowledging the things he did wrong. The answer is as complex as the question yes, but with conditions.

Lagerfeld was an icon because his contribution to the fashion world was so great. His work with Chanel was prolific. He took the brand and made them accessible to the modern audience. He attempted to make his designs more affordable (although they’re still generally unaffordable for most people, but he had good intentions). Last year he had Chanel ban animal skins and furs, making them the first major fashion house to do so. Following in his footsteps, London Fashion Week decided to not use fur in September for the first time.

Some of Lagerfeld’s comments were of a model being “too fat”,  as well as an Islamophobic comment he made when Chancellor Angela Merkel talked about welcoming Syrian refugees into Germany. Additionally, he also expressed criticism against the #MeToo movement.

The opinion of whether it is safe to celebrate Lagerfeld’s life or not is divided. Actor Jameela Jamil wrote on Twitter that he was “a ruthless, fat-phobic misogynist”. On the other hand, model Cara Delevingne, who was both a close friend and model for Lagerfeld, wrote, “He was not a saint, he is human being like all of us who made mistakes and we should all have the chance to be forgiven for that.”

Lagerfeld once said, “Everything I say is a joke, I am a joke myself.” Additionally, Lagerfeld was gay, but was against gay marriage (deeming it to be “bourgeois”). It’s possible that he could have been saying what he really felt in the moment or he could have been stirring up his image for attention.

It is important to remember that Lagerfeld was 85 years old. We are now in an age, with the internet to document everything, where everything we say is kept and taken apart. He grew up in a different time when this wasn’t even the case, though it doesn’t excuse his behaviour. The answer to whether he should be mourned, as mentioned, is complex and requires an attempt to extend an understanding of human nature, even when it can be heartbreaking to do so. The answer is yes, we can celebrate him along with the other artists who have done and said wrong. But these wrongs must be held accountable to the person.

Despite all Lagerfeld’s artistry and creativity, we cannot ignore the comments he made. It would be ignorant to do so. It is important to hold people who are public figures in accountable for their actions. Since celebrities have such power and influence, responsibility comes along with that privilege– even if they do not recognize this power, it is important they use their words with intention and care. We must recognize this, not only with Lagerfeld, but all celebrities.

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