This year, the Met Gala shouldn’t have tried to separate the art from the artist.
It’s a time-honoured tradition for every publication with a pop culture section to review and analyse stars that attend the Met Gala. Since May 1, the internet has been swarmed with picture after picture—and judgment after judgement—of this year’s red carpet looks.
However, while in years past fashion columns have usually focussed their commentary on who’s best and worst dressed, this year’s event raised deeper questions about the fashion world and its legacy.
Set to coincide with a Metropolitan Costume Institute exhibit of the same name, this year’s Met Gala theme was “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty.” The judgment was turned away from the dresses, and towards the controversial figure of Karl Lagerfeld, who was misogynistic, racist, and fatphobic.
Lagerfeld’s influence in the fashion world is undeniable. His career achievements include collaborating with Fendi early in his career and serving as Chanel’s creative director for several decades. After Coco Chanel’s death, Lagerfeld revitalized the brand and helped transform it to be one of the most well-known fashion brands, which is now synonymous with wealth, luxury, and style.
While it makes sense the Metropolitan Costume Institute sought to honour such a noteworthy figure with an exhibition and the Met Gala theme, it’s important to acknowledge the harm behind Lagerfeld’s legacy.
Lagerfeld’s career wasn’t without controversy. Throughout his career, he expressed countless bigoted beliefs. From wanting to exclude plus-sized people from fashion, to degrading women, mocking the #MeToo movement, photographing a model in blackface and yellowface, and openly participating in racist behaviour, Lagerfeld’s work normalized and upheld oppression across the fashion industry.
In excluding plus-sized models from the fashion world, he sought to make fashion an exclusionary practice. In dressing and photographing a white model in racist caricatures, he catered to an audience that not only tolerated racism, but also contributed to a culture that continues to make the fashion world unsafe for people of colour.
Art cannot be separated from the artist when the artist shaped a whole industry. The Met Gala’s theme and the Met’s exhibition seeks to honour Lagerfeld’s legacy. In doing so, it frames his bigotry
Racism, transphobia, homophobia and fatphobia have always been an inextricable part of the fashion industry. The industry is rife with appropriation and exclusionary practices, where designers often steal from marginalized people while simultaneously discriminating against them.
This theme doesn’t just honour Karl Lagerfeld—it serves as an ultimate reminder to the way bigotry is woven into the fabric of pop-culture. Despite Lagerfeld’s racism and misogyny, he shaped the fashion world and Met Gala to what it was today.
When looking atthis year’s Met Gala outfits, it’s easy to say that the designs were the best they’ve been in a long time. The recreations of iconic Lagerfeld designs, adherence to his love for black and white, and bombastic displays that paid homage to his cat made the event visually stunning.
This Met Gala affirms that the fashion world and its institutions are comfortable celebrating a figure who embodies all the virtues and flaws of its industry. However, behind the spectacle of gorgeous gowns, the fashion industry steps back into its bigoted comfort zone.
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