In a new interview with French fashion magazine, Numero, famed fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld says he is “fed up” with the number of models coming forward with stories of sexual assault. The 84-year-old head creative director of Chanel and Fendi gave some comments on the #MeToo movement that were disgustingly on-brand for Lagerfeld.
“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,” Lagerfeld told Numéro. “All their accusations of harassment they have become quite toxic.”
Apparently not understanding the concept of victim shaming, Lagerfeld went on to sympathize with former creative director of Interview magazine, Karl Templer. Earlier this year, Templar was fired after accusations of sexual misconduct were revealed. Lagerfeld says he refuses to believe the allegations against “poor Karl Templer.”
“A girl complained he tried to pull her pants down and he is instantly excommunicated from a profession that up until then had venerated him. It’s unbelievable,” said Lagerfeld. “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. They’re recruiting even!”
Lagerfeld believes that the #MeToo movement is limiting those who work in the fashion industry saying, “I read somewhere that now you must ask a model if she is comfortable with posing. It’s simply too much, from now on, as a designer, you can’t do anything.”
Lagerfeld’s comments on the #MeToo movement, specifically models in the fashion industry is if anything, insight into the kind of environments models are subjected to. It is confirmation to the outside world of the very real and imbalanced power dynamics between designers, photographers and the models they hire.
That power is not dissimilar to the dynamics of Harvey Weinstein and his victims. Like producers and directors, the fashion world is filled with gatekeepers that abuse their power. What Lagerfeld does with his comments is not only degrade victims of sexual assault — but he implies that a level of the sinister behaviour models are subjected to is part of the job description.
To be a model, Lagerfeld apparently believes one must expect being violated in the name of art — and that guise of being a creative is what has protected the fashion industry and its predators for so long. The suggestion that the only solution for models to avoid sexual harassment in the workplace is to become a nun suggests that no model, no matter how famous, deserves to have agency over their body.
Lagerfeld has consistently debased women for their looks – not just famous women, but the collective audience he feels are inferior to him. In 2009, Lagerfeld made headlines for saying that the only people who have problems with models being thin are “fat mummies sitting with their bag of crisps in front of the television.”
In 2013, Lagerfeld called Grammy-winning singer Adele “too fat.” Later that year, he received flak for his comments comparing sisters Kate and Pippa Middleton in which he said that Pippa “struggles.” Of the Duchess of Cambridge’s younger sister, Lagerfeld said, “I don’t like the sister’s face. She should only show her back.”
Lagerfeld has gotten away with his behaviour largely because of the cultural currency given to the luxury brands he works for. The fashion house of Chanel has long been tied to a romantic notion of femininity and luxury that predates WWI. At the helm of both Chanel and Fendi, Lagerfeld’s has influenced if not informed mainstream culture from his biased platform where he objectifies and devalues women. The value placed on a specific aesthetic of thinness and beauty that permeates pop culture and represses women is literally created and sustained by people like Karl Lagerfeld who have creative control in the fashion industry. We have so many victims of sexual assault and have lived with such unhealthy standards of beauty because of the likes of Lagerfeld who work tirelessly to protect their power.
At the time of writing there has not been an apology or clarification issued by Lagerfeld, however if history is any indicator, we shouldn’t expect one any time soon. It is important that Lagerfeld’s comments not be dismissed as the musings of an eccentric character. Lagerfeld’s agitation helps expose the areas and key power-players in fashion who do not support change and equality. His sentiments towards the #MeToo movement may just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and leads to his dismissal.
To all men and women with a #MeToo story to tell: Let your voices be heard — it’s working.