Model Alliance, an organization working to improve labor issues in the fashion industry, has issued a blistering statement against Karl Lagerfeld for an interview in which he called models “stupid,” “toxic,” and “sordid creatures.”
In an April 12 interview with French magazine Numéro, Lagerfeld prattled on about a wide range of subjects, from body hair to diet to, inevitably, #MeToo. The designer wasn’t quite incoherent; rather, he said the kinds of things necessary to keep his reputation as a dusty, cadaverous, old fart up and running. In case you thought that, despite his reputation for being, um, “outspoken,” he’d have something nuanced and polite to say about harassment in the fashion industry, I’m sorry to report that you are one thousand percent incorrect.
Have movements like #MeToo and #Time’sUp affected the way you approach your work?
Absolutely not. I read somewhere that now you must ask a model if she is comfortable with posing. Its simply too much, from now on, as a designer, you can’t do anything. As for the accusations against the poor Karl Templar [creative director at Interview magazine], I don’t believe a single word of it. 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. 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!
Is this Karl Lagerfeld being the cantankerous, musty ghoul that he has been his entire adult life? Sure. But it’s also the kind of behavior that is wearing thin. As the Boston Globe reported in February, the modeling industry is rife with abuse and sexual exploitation. Karl Templer, to whom Lagerfeld extended his symapthies, was accused by three models of “yanking their breasts, touching their crotches, or aggressively pulling down their underwear without asking them during shoots.” As is so often the case in many industries that have found their darlings called out for treating women like shit, this behavior has existed for years and has flown under the radar. “There are so many stylists and photographers who feel it is their right to touch you in any which way they please,” model Abbey Lee told the Globe. “Sometimes it’s as simple as adjusting something and other times, it is a disregard for your body.”
In an open letter to Lagerfeld, the Model Alliance’s Sara Ziff called for action.
Demeaning treatment and pervasive conditions of sexual harassment and abuse have plagued the fashion industry for far too long—and as they are finally coming to light, the people who enable these conditions must be held accountable. Mr. Lagerfeld’s flippant dismissal of reports of abuse, and his characterization of models who have come forward as “stupid,” “toxic” and “sordid creatures” who should quit their profession if they do not like how they are treated surely demands action.
While the industry has previously met such remarks with tacit acceptance, this much is clear: attitudes like Lagerfeld’s carry the day no longer. From the New York Times and the Boston Globe, to the public posting of long lists of the names of accused perpetrators—fashion models and others who have been preyed upon for years are finding their voice and speaking up. Moreover, consumers are increasingly demanding higher ethical standards in the products they buy. While overwhelming, this historical moment presents leaders in the fashion industry with an opportunity to be pathfinders in responding to this plea for action.
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Lagerfeld is hardly the face of the problem, but his position in the fashion industry makes him an unwitting spokesman. As the creative director of Chanel and Fendi, as well as his own eponymous line of clothing and accessories, he wields enormous power. It’d be great if he did us all a favor and shut up.