The theme of the Met’s forthcoming costume exhibit is “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty,” which compiles designs from his career — at Chanel, Fendi, Chloé, Balmain, Patou, and his own Karl Lagerfeld line — alongside some of the original sketches. Per the curator Andrew Bolton, “The exhibition will look at the evolution of Karl’s two-dimensional drawings into three-dimensional garments… It was almost a secret code, a language shared between him and those premiers, that only they could fully decipher.” Karl’s selection as a Met theme is something of a controversial subject, at least among non-fashion folks. I personally didn’t know about a lot of the stuff he’d said until he died, but it’s been robustly covered since then — even Maintenance Phase did a podcast about him — and I have since learned that, among other things, he was disdainful of Me Too empowering models to speak up about their treatment, and he was loudly fatphobic (I guess I’ll give him credit for not pretending to be otherwise, the way I think a lot of designers do now, but still). His idea of apologizing for making comments about Adele’s weight was to say a) that she lost weight after his comments, so therefore he must not have been terribly wrong, and b) that he was actually talking about Lana Del Rey anyway. How is that better?!? Karl, that is… not it. And yet he was a beloved figure, widely lionized and adored by models both contemporary and classic. Maybe that’s because the warmth of his regard or his spotlight was too enticing, or because human beings are complex and can be many things at once… but certainly Karl did not seem to feel any remorse for any of his attitudes before he passed, and I guess that’s not a sticking point for anyone? Fashion has a reputation for not actually giving a shit about fixing any of the cracks in its foundation, and this certainly bolsters that argument. Then again, you also can’t argue that Karl Lagerfeld didn’t have a massive influence and output, so it’s hard to consider fashion — especially in a museum context — WITHOUT also considering him. I suppose the question is the willingness, or perhaps unwillingness, to consider all sides of him.
ANYWAY: The cover. Annie Leibovitz was behind the lens, using her typically muddy lighting and gloomy setup to capture “ten of the models Lagerfeld loved most,” all wearing Chanel and Fendi. They’re standing on a scaffold at the Grand Palais in Paris, one of Karl’s most beloved locations for a fashion show, and which is currently under a renovation being funded at least in part by Chanel. Someone on Reddit said they thought this was going to be a story about America’s Next Top Model, and it totally is giving off that vibe — I keep expecting one of the girls to fade out of this photo after she’s been eliminated. I think here it would be Gigi Hadid, up whose nose we are staring, and she’d be in the bottom two with Natalia Vodianova, who also gets a bit lost and who would be on the receiving end of a burn from Tyra about how the spotlight or space heater or WHATEVER that is in the bottom left corner is out-performing her. I also would have loved to see some more classic supers that Karl loved, because I have a lot of questions about whether Kendall Jenner is truly a Lagerfeld favorite.
Inside, the models each pose in a dress designed by someone else as an homage to Karl’s career. We were only allowed to use three of those, but also check out Christopher John Rogers’s pink confection, which… he seems to have leaned into “I did a lot of work, like Karl did,” rather than actually making it an homage? But I like it as a garment. Gigi Hadid wore Gucci, and Vogue got no comment from whomever designed it there — they were probably still between creative directors at this time? — so she had to talk about Karl’s iconic look, which her dress appears to evoke. It’s an interesting exercise, more intriguing in some executions than in others, and also feels like they’re pickpocketing themselves a bit — these would have been useful ideas for the Gala itself; perhaps they’ll at least be in the exhibit? Focusing on an INTERPRETATION of Lagerfeld herein, rather than the man, does also feel like Vogue is attempting “separate the art from the artist” here, except that’s hard to do when the exhibit is named after him, and the theme is to dress “in honor of Karl.” I hope, as I’ve expressed before, that at least one person comes in the sweatpants that he reviled.