Karl Lagerfeld died Tuesday in Paris at the age of 85, the New York Times reports. The German fashion designer had been hospitalized in January for undisclosed health issues, and the cause of death has not been disclosed.
Lagerfeld had long been a leader in the fashion industry, working for Fendi since 1965, where he held the title of creative director—the same position he’d also had at Chanel since 1983. (The houses will show their Fall 2019 collections in Milan and Paris this week and next, respectively.) He was in possession of a notorious work ethic, having spread around his sensibilities in fashion for over six decades, since being hired as Pierre Balmain’s assistant in 1955. His legend not only encompassed his clear and copious design talents, with a special regard for finery and frippery of luxury, but his personality: his ice-white ponytail, leather driving gloves, black glasses and silver accessories made for an instantly recognizable Halloween costume, and his devotion to his adorable cat Choupette—a Birman whose coat matched his hair—manifested itself in a signature fashion and beauty line.
But his eccentric personality wasn’t entirely charming—Lagerfeld also embodied some of the fashion industry’s most vile impulses, and very likely helped entrench them. This included a notorious disdain for women he considered to be “fat” and “ugly” (or, in the case of Meryl Streep, “cheap”); an uncomfortably colonial approach to design, the kind that often dismisses valid critiques as simply part of the necessary “fantasy” of fashion; and, most recently, a dismissive attitude towards MeToo, which evoked memories of the time he lent his support to Dominique Strauss-Kahn after the latter was accused of sexually assaulting Nafissatou Diallo. Then there was that time he staged a feminist protest at a runway show, but like, hold the feminism.
Lagerfeld will rightly be remembered as an immense talent who transformed the face of fashion for over a half-century. But as the industry mourns him, let’s also remember that his views were not just wildly retrograde but also quite stale, and not aligned with the future-forward, more egalitarian direction fashion is determined to go—a direction that respects our differences rather than picks them off, and doesn’t allow a man’s “aesthetic genius” to overshadow a clear disdain for women as a whole.