Opinion | Can we always separate the art from the artist?

By Kelly Xiong, Staff Columnist

This year’s Met Gala theme received quite the criticism. The theme was “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” to honor the German fashion designer who recently passed away in 2019. On the surface, this probably seemed like a really nice thing to do. Dua Lipa and Jennie of BLACKPINK came wearing Chanel in honor of Lagerfield, as he is who made the brand what we know it as today. Lil Nas X, Doja Cat and Jared Leto even came dressed up as Karl’s cat, Choupette, who inherited around $1.5 million of Karl’s fortune. 

However, what many don’t realize is that Lagerfeld has made some extremely problematic statements in the past that left some feeling iffy about the choice for this year’s theme. Lagerfeld’s past fatphobic, misogynistic and racist comments raised many questions and concerns regarding why the Met was celebrating his legacy. Some chose to opt out of this year’s gala altogether to avoid having any part in celebrating Lagerfeld’s hatefulness. 

The long debate of whether we can separate the art from the artist has been especially prevalent in the past few decades with stars like Johnny Depp, Louis C.K. and Chris Brown involved in massive controversies and scandals. There are many sides to the argument, and academics and philosophers are always adding new ideas to the debate. Some made the argument that you absolutely can separate the art from the artist when the artist is dead because they no longer have control over how you may interpret their work. 

In Lagerfeld’s case, this is true. His designs and creations are still iconic to this day, but it is not as attached to him or his image anymore. People can enjoy his work without also associating it with him. The double-F Fendi logo we all know today and the classiness that is associated with Chanel now are all the work of Lagerfeld. These brands have taken a life of their own since he worked for them. People will love brands like Chanel and Fendi regardless of what Lagerfeld has done in the past because they are not really associated with each other anymore. While they can acknowledge his past, that doesn’t mean they’ll stop buying his designs. It’s not because they support or agree with Lagerfeld’s opinions but because his work is extraordinary. 

To give some insight into why people are taking this year’s theme so seriously, Lagerfeld’s book in 2005 repeatedly contained unsolicited comments and critiques about women’s bodies. He called Adele “too fat” and Heidi Klum “too heavy” and also made fun of the body positivity movement saying that fashion is “the healthiest motivation for losing weight.” Instead, he promotes highly restrictive and unhealthy habits to lose weight not for health purposes but rather for aesthetics instead. In 2010, he faced heavy criticism for having supermodel Claudia Schiffer do blackface and yellowface for German magazine Stern Fotografie. Even as recent as 2018, Lagerfeld publicly stated that he was “fed up” with the #MeToo movement and even defended Karl Templer, a stylist many models accused of sexual misconduct. 

Needless to say, those who refused to participate in the Met Gala in any way this year were very valid. No one wants to celebrate or honor a person who has made hateful and insensitive comments about them or the group they’re in. Some models even protested the choice of theme. The Model Alliance, founded in 2012 advocating for models’ rights and safety, made it clear that they were displeased with this year’s theme. L’Oreal Global Ambassador Nidhi Sunil and New York State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal joined the Model Alliance in protest. 

The Met Gala is like the Super Bowl for the fashion girlies, but this year’s controversial theme left many unhappy and not wanting to tune in. There’s no doubt that Karl Lagerfeld made some incredible contributions to the fashion world. We still see the impacts of his time working at major fashion houses such as Fendi, Balmain, Chloé, and Chanel. As talented of a designer as he was, that doesn’t mean he was also a super great person. 

Many of us just wanted to tune in for the fashion. The outfits at the Met Gala are always super extravagant and beautiful. After all, it is by the costume institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The outfits themselves are pieces of art. While I do think that we can appreciate the looks this year without celebrating Lagerfeld, it’s a bit complicated when the theme is honoring the artist. Some felt that we can’t really celebrate the fashion alone without also celebrating Lagerfield and upholding his many problematic views. When someone’s hateful opinions are this attached to their image and name, it’s quite hard to separate the art from the artist. Many celebrities who were interviewed at the event even avoided mentioning Lagerfeld altogether. Their decisions to mention or not mention Karl Lagerfeld shows that even some of the celebrities are just there for the fun and fashion. 

While we can appreciate and respect Lagerfeld’s work in fashion and how he created major change in the industry, we must also acknowledge that he was no saint. We can give credit where it’s due without glossing over his past hateful comments. 

Kelly Xiong primarily writes about personal wellness and fashion. You can reach her at [email protected]