Why is 2023's Met Gala theme so contentious?

Why is 2023's Met Gala theme so contentious?

Karl Lagerfeld, the subject of this year’s Met Gala, is undeniably a superstar of the world of high fashion.

The late German designer transformed the Chanel fashion house from old fashioned to uber-desirable, worked his magic at Fendi and Chloé, and was lauded worldwide for transforming traditional runway shows into theatrical displays, truly making clothing into art.

However, despite the positive parts of his legacy, Lagerfeld has also gone down in history as one of the most controversial and outspoken people in all of fashion history.

While the Met Gala, the annual event hosted by American Vogue editor Anna Wintour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on the first Monday of every May, is always one of the biggest events in fashion, its theme for 2023 - Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty - has attracted criticism and even seen a number of boycotts. Here's why.

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Lagerfeld in Paris in November 2018 - AP Photo

A self-labelled “big-mouth” with controversial opinions

Lagerfeld, who died in 2019 at the age of 85, referred to himself as a “big mouth” and was famed alongside his talent for his controversial takes on subjects including fatphobia, ‘ugly’ people, migrants, the #MeToo movement and gay men who want to adopt children, always without apology.

While New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman heralded his outspoken nature, writing soon after Lagerfeld’s death that he “offended people right and left, making as much of an art out of the cutting aside as the perfectly cut double-face gown. He judged and knew he would be judged himself, but he didn’t care. Rather, he embraced it”, others think his opinions were anything but artful.

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From left, Michaela Coel, Penelope Cruz, Dua Lipa and Roger Federer, who will co-chair the Met Gala with long-time host Anna Wintour - AP Photo

Around 600 celebrities, including Anna Wintour’s co-chairs Dua Lipa, Michaela Coel, Penelope Cruz and Roger Federer, will take to the Met’s Grand Staircase for the gala this year.

However, actor and activist Jameela Jamil is one famous face who will not be attending.

Jamil took to Instagram when the theme was announced last year, denouncing his “distinctly hateful” remarks, “mostly towards women”.

She wrote: “Why is THIS who we celebrate when there are so many AMAZING designers out there who aren't bigoted white men? What happened to everyone's principles and "advocacy." You don't get to stand for justice in these areas, and then attend the celebration of someone who revelled in his own public disdain for marginalised people”.

Twitter account @HFMetGala, who have historically invited creators to submit digital fashion ideas on the Met Gala’s annual theme, announced they were boycotting 2023’s event, tweeting: “As we approach the first Monday of May, the hf twitter met gala team would like to announce that we will not be celebrating this year’s met gala as our values don’t align with the selection of Karl Lagerfeld as the theme”.

American Vogue editor and Met Gala host Anna Wintour attends the event in 2019 - Invision

Fatphobia and apparent misogyny

Lagerfeld was well-known for his fatphobia, after losing 92 lbs (or 42 kilograms) himself in weight in just 13 months. He co-authored a diet book and was constantly vocal on the apparent necessity of models to be exceptionally slim to be able to walk in his runway shows.

In 2009, he told German magazine Focus that he was against Brigitte magazine’s decision to publish photographs of ‘real women’ rather than professional models, saying: “You’ve got fat mothers with their bags of chips sitting in front of the television and saying that thin models are ugly. The world of beautiful clothing is about ‘dreams and illusions’”.

Lagerfeld spoke in the same interview of his disdain of plus-size models, claiming, “no one wants to see curvy women”.

He was critical of his own weight too, famously only smelling chocolate bars and refusing to eat any for some 30 years. He was also quoted as saying: “My only ambition in life … is to wear size 28 jeans”.

Lagerfeld didn’t pull any punches when it came to ‘unattractive’ faces, either. In 2010, he spoke to Vice about Andy Warhol, saying, “I shouldn’t say this, but physically he was quite repulsive”, before describing a German journalist who once interviewed him as “some horrible, ugly woman”.

Perhaps more controversially, though, were his comments on the #MeToo movement and sexual assault victims.

Speaking to Numéro magazine in 2018, he claimed he was “fed up” with efforts to reveal sexual harassment, assault and rape in the film industry and beyond, saying: “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”.

This standpoint applied to Lagerfeld’s views on models, too. In the same interview with Numéro, he said: “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!”

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Lagerfeld joins supermodels Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista and Claudia Schiffer on the runway at his ready-to-wear fashion collection for Chanel in Paris in 1995 - AP Photo

Controversial standpoints on migrants and gay adoption

Even politicians weren’t free of Lagerfeld’s criticisms.

In 2017, despite being born in Hamburg, he attacked Angela Merkel, the then German chancellor, for opening her country’s borders to migrants during the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe.

Speaking on Canal 8, he made widely condemned comments about the Holocaust and said, “One cannot - even if there are decades between them - kill millions of Jews so you can bring millions of their worst enemies in their place”, which prompted hundreds of complaints to the TV station.

Despite apparently supporting the French same-sex marriage law, sending two models posing as brides in identical wedding dresses down the catwalk at his spring 2013 Chanel haute couture show in Paris, he also spoke out against gay marriage, particularly pertaining to two men making the commitment.

In his 2010 Vice interview, he said: “In the ‘60s, they all said we had the right to the difference. And now, suddenly, they want a bourgeois life. For me it’s difficult to imagine - one of the papas at work and the other at home with the baby. How would that be, for the baby? I don’t know. I see more lesbians married with babies than I see boys married with babies. And I also believe more in the relationship between mother and child than in that between father and child”.

In 2013, he added to this rhetoric, saying he was “less keen” on same-sex couples being allowed to adopt.

Regardless of the numerous controversies surrounding the late Karl Lagerfeld, today's Met Gala is bound to be a spectacular event, launching an exhibition of the designer's extensive body of work at the iconic museum, which runs until 16 July.