The Met Gala honoring Karl Lagerfeld takes place Monday. His history of controversial comments has received renewed attention leading up to the event. Judging by social media commentary, it seems like a lot of people don’t really care about that aspect of his legacy, or are willing to overlook it because of the fabulosity of the night and all that. I’m so curious to hear from Back Row readers: how do you feel about this year’s event? Are you excited? Not excited? Neutral? What other themes would you have liked to see, if any?
Also, if you have any questions about the Gala, please ask! As a Met Gala historian it would be my honor to pluck some queries and comments to respond to in a Met Gala mailbag later this week.
My feeling is that Karl Lagerfeld was a brilliant designer and a crap person. Reading Andre Leon Talley's biography, which chronicles Karl's vicious ghosting of Talley, solidified this opinion, but his many fat-phobic comments—which I can only suppose he thought were clever and edgy when he made them—also shaped my outlook. And I think it's sad and dumb that the fashion industry is celebrating him at its biggest event of the year. Sure, have a fashion retrospective for Karl. Deserved. But lionizing this proudly nasty figure who's absolutely emblematic of fashion's bigoted near-past is a misstep. It's as though the industry is actively trying to repel the next generation haha. That's what I think, Amy! Thanks for asking us!
KL was a profoundly insecure person, who manufactured and continued to evolve a persona throughout his career. He embroidered his origins, and went from body building to being overweight to subsisting on very little to stay thin, which is likely why he had such a horror of fat people (it was self-hatred). His talent was undeniable and massive, he was an actual genius, but the person behind it all was a mess, in my opinion. Does he deserve an exhibit? Certainly, but I'd like to see his work presented in context with his personality and his faults.
Logistics! We already know Anna approves every guest but who decides what they’ll wear and which table they’ll be seated at ( I’m assuming big brands buy several) or do the designers get to choose who they’ll dress? I know it’s a bit different this year because of Chanel’s outsized role but in general.
Who gets to get ready at The Carlyle? Is it everyone or a select few (and are there other hotel suites in the area at say The Mark for more subdued celebs)?
I’ll most likely skip this one ( and I’ve been going to the costume institute since I was 4 ) because of the Karl factor but also the Met raised their prices again and don’t have a pay what you wish afternoon/evening like other museums around town.
The timing is weird. I can see a retrospective 10 or 20 years after his death when we have some perspective on his legacy, but not three years out. There are also so many untold stories that would be more socially relevant to our time and arguably of more interest.
I appreciate you offering up this question, Amy. I am deeply frustrated and disappointed by this year's Met Gala theme. Knowing that Coco Chanel having been a literal card-carrying Nazi who never apologized for it was not enough for her or her legacy to have been tarnished much less cancelled means I am not surprised that Karl is still celebrated. But even though he was not a Nazi, his lifelong commitment to insulting women, Syrians, Jews (in my opinion as a Jewish person), Muslims, and others is, of course, deplorable. It makes the whole fashion industry look nasty and hateful. What a shame. There are endless themes that could have been chosen. As others have noted, I believe that it would have been possible to hold onto Lagerfeld's achievements without making this entire night and exhibit a celebration of his legacy.
It would be great to have a Met Gala that was exciting and creative, but instead here’s yet another boring Anna Wintour production. Even worse this time, an homage to Lagerfeld, who was both boring and mean.
Personally, I see the choice as a very deliberate and considered one that is meant to show the power of the decision-makers. Choosing Lagerfeld is was done with full knowledge of his complexity both admirable and deplorable and everywhere in between. The decision is as much about who is not chosen as who is, so the choice says to me that there just wasn't someone that they thought was "better" this year. Also, it's not a huge leap to say that the Lagerfeld choice brings with it (a) press attention, (b) support from the fashion industry, and (c) support from sponsors. It seems to me that Lagerfeld just said the quiet part out loud and that there are many more who privately agree with his sentiments than disagree, even if they wish he had kept quiet about it.
This is one of the conundrums of our times.. How do we appreciate the body of work someone has done and at the same time not give credence to their personal values..and actions? Was just listening to an NPR talk today addressing this subject. A lot of great artists and writers have also had toxic personal lives. Some were bringing up J.K. Rowling and how much they adored her books and aren't willing to give up those characters and stories, even though her hate on trans kids hurts them personally.
I don't know what the answer is, but I would hope they would go the extra mile to include that he could be unkind and cruel, and not evolved regarding people's body shapes and plus sizes. He certainly didn't make the world a kinder place -except maybe for Choupette, his cat.
Karl was a good, charismatic designer. Personally, the praise stops there and I know he was from a totally older generation of creative thinkers during a time when body positivity was non-existent. I don’t think Vogue reads the room well at all (not for the last few years) they’re sticking to capitalism over artists and I get that and accept it. It’s unfortunate that it can’t complement the current climates of inclusivity and honoring the designers who did just that. Imagine the global masses who would’ve paid to see Virgil Abloh’s works that were so significant to not just fashion, retail but he built a new audience. If not Virgil there are other designers with similar intentions that used the technical work of fashion and integrating it into cultural landscape. Karl designed, but that was about it and if that is what Vogue wants to honor then okay. I’m just not that excited or anxious to see his exhibit.
Hi Amy. I am not a Lagerfeld fan. I know that's an unpopular stance, but I can't get past his personal attacks on people (others in the fashion world, fat people in general, etc.). Were his designs *so* amazing? Some, maybe. He also did a lot of iterative and derivative work over the years. So... not because of this year's theme, but because I *loves* me a good red carpet, I will tune in. I always do!
What I want to know is how much money Chanel etc is throwing at the Met and Vogue to have this exhibition and be part of the Met Gala? There are so many other worthy designers. Why not a focus on the LGBTQ+ designers or artist collaborations (think louis vuitton and yayoi kusama). Quite frankly Karl is bore to me.
I am really surprised - we live in a time when (for better or for worse!) people are judged according to their worst/ historic comments. And he made some pretty abominable ones! But the MET/ Wintour generally seems above this sort of censure, CURRENTLY. After all, Vogue has made some terrific blunders in the past, too. I do wonder if that will last, though.
history is filled with other people who deserve this kind of attention and reverence.
i know i'll watch recaps of the event but i look forward to the met gala less and less because no one says on theme. year after year i'm disappointed but not surprised. like, jfc there's brief, read it. do a quick google search. skim a wiki. stop ignoring history.
As someone who hasn’t followed the history of the gala super closely, I’m curious whether having a single designer as a theme has happened before, and if so, how did it play out? Of everyone who could have been chosen, his history of being a jerk makes him feel like a bad choice, and reflects an industry that attempts to signify progress but remains rooted in very narrow and non-inclusive values.
Maintenance Phase podcast has a great episode about the diet book he wrote. Provides a lot of insight into his fat phobia.
Personally, I think the Met Gala is playing it too safe and needs to revisit its roots to the time when the late and legendary Diana Vreeland served as their special consultant. Of course, even people who aren't particularly interested in Karl Lagerfeld will likely tune into the Met Gala because of his enormous and controversial legacy.
However, I think it's about time the Met Gala made less obvious choices and championed the new wave of creatives who have much more unknown and subsequently interesting stories. Imagine the traction it would create for such as a designer and what it would represent for people who come from similar backgrounds!
I don’t think the majority of the attendees care if the honored guest is Karl Lagerfeld or Karl Marx. It’s just being there among the A listers and fashion icons that’s probably just plain fun and exciting. Let’s be grateful the fashion industry is not joining the cancel club bandwagon, Yet) If you have a moral dilemma, don’t buy his clothes.
I'm looking forward to the exhibit and the Met Gala. I acknowledge Lagerfeld's flaws - I interviewed him several times and was shocked by some brutal comments mixed in with his marketing insight and cultural relevance. I've read a few books about him as well, and it appears he let his fame go to his head as he created his public persona (Talley did as well). The controversy is shining a light on this systemic fat-phobia so I'm grateful that we are having the conversation.
I’m intrigued! I’m leaving aside the person for a sec here. Do you think that the way designers create around the theme will try to focus on the dualities that existed in Karl’s work?
I'm thrilled to watch this Met Gala. When I consider artists who embodied progress through the cultural evolutions of the past century, Lagerfeld provides a superlative example: a childhood in WWII Germany, a contemporary of YSL, engaging in the 60's youth quake and reinventing Chanel in the 90's, jumping into the concept of a collab in an aughts collection for H&M. Lagerfeld understood and engaged with the idea that street art and high art are equally valuable.
I take this as a celebration of the body of work created by Lagerfeld, rather than a re-writing or rug-sweeping of his personal failures. Lagerfeld's worser aspects are not only well-known, they are highly documented. The feebler aspects of an artist's humanity do not negate or invalidate an artist's contributions: if that were the case, museums and galleries would cease to exist.
The fact that he was wholly unapologetic for all of the hateful things he said tarnishes whatever legacy he leaves for me. With that said, I will be interested to see what the actual exhibit looks like, considering Chanel’s set designs during his era were always fascinating.
All in all, I’d much rather see a designer like Vivienne Westwood or Virgil Abloh honored.
I have never been less excited for a Met Gala. I understand the arguments for separating art and artist, but I just don't think that is possible here. His hateful attitudes over-shadow everything he ever created. In a climate where we should be championing the young, diverse designers that are the future of this industry, what does this tell them about how welcome they really are in fashion? (Also, anyone looking for some entertaining insight should listen to the Maintenance Phase episode on his diet book - it's a wild ride)
I feel like there might be some good outfits but people will care even less about the theme than they did in years where it was a lot more broad a mandate. I’m not a KL fan as a chubby girl, but I’ll admit he was a brilliant designer. But the joy of the big themes is in how widely they can be interpreted -- and there’s only so many ways that one designers work can be interpreted or interrogated. I wish if they would do a more limited scope it would have been something like Chanel as a whole instead of one designer.
That said I think Lagerfeld esque looks - slinky dresses, big sleeves, lots of sparkle - are in and a lot of the looks will be very fashionable for the moment. And while it will inevitably invite discourse, I feel like it kinda suits the high fashion industry who had very much abandoned any attempt at catering to plus size in the designer ranges. Putting Karl up on a pedestal isn’t saying we don’t want //you// any more than shoving plus size (if they even carry it) online only and limiting most designer garments to a 12 or even an 8 and under already has been.
I am interested to see if the trend of less celebrities, more influencers will continue. With the controversial theme I can see some celebs ducking out to avoid the discourse/bad press, but it feels like most influencers never heard of a bad opportunity to get their name out there.
Thanks for answering questions!
How much input do celebrities have in the choice of the designers and their outfits? Obviously some celebrities are brand ambassadors and wear the same brands every year, but what about celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker or Tracey Ellis Ross who have worn different designers over the years? Do they choose the designers or do the designers choose them?
I´ve herad that brands buy tables. But what about spouses who wear different designers? Does that mean that they have to sit at different tables?
How much power does Anna have over the guests´ outfits? (For example Kims choice to wear Marilyn Monroe´s dress last year.)
Isn´t it a bad look that some brands (like Louis Vuitton) do not create custom looks and just use dresses from their current collection?
I hope my questions are understandable. (English is not my first language.)
I love your subtrack!
Loved the Understitch video. True brilliance.
While Lagerfeld was undoubtedly a successful businessman who mastered the art of repackaging tradition, he was an underwhelming designer. Would be more interested in an event that celebrates diversity and innovation in the craft of fashion, rather than the mirage of its industry.
It's common for many people that lose a lot of weight and keep it off to then become fat phobic, he wasn't unique in that, but love him as a designer, and although the Met Gala has now become a bit OTT, I will be watching.
Hi Amy! I got two questions not related to this year’s theme. I’ve been watching it since 2013, and my curiosity goes around the history behind the idea of the ball.
How the idea of throwing the Gala every first Monday of May came about?
Every edition has its own levels of complexity in thinking about the themes, excluding the pandemic one which edition theme was the hardest one to figure out?
I could never stand him, from his pretentiousness and holier than thou attitude (most likely masking massive insecurity) to even his designs. He hated the Kardashian family until he realized they had a lot of followers, & then they were in his good graces. Even Anna Wintour followed along. It has always been all about the money. I will not be watching the livestream because of that and also the whole event has become a circus. I am a person with an interest in unique personal style, and this event portrays nothing to the viewer about the personal style of the wearer. I also plan to miss the exhibit.
I love the Met Gala as I'm guessing most of us do. There's no doubt of KLs contribution to fashion. But I thought we were past the era of turning a blind eye... maybe not. Also, I remember being in Paris ten years ago and walking past one of his own brands stores, and it never took off did it? It just looked so sad with no one shopping in it
I think celebrating someone who was so fatfobic and racist is just a direct correlation of the lack of diversity in fashion currently and how the biggest publication of fashion, the guests and all it’s followers just say f it who cares. We have gone backwards yet again
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