Karl Lagerfeld: Feminist Icon?

HANNAH BEER on Chanel and fashionable feminism.

As the undisputed king of the fashion industry, so often seen to be at complete odds with feminist ideology, and the man who once deemed Adele ‘a little too fat’ for his liking, Karl Lagerfeld is perhaps the last person you’d expect to not only take part in, but lead, a feminist march down a Parisian boulevard. But, always keeping us guessing, that’s exactly what he did yesterday afternoon. Well, sort of.

Even if you don’t have a particular interest in fashion, you probably know that Lagerfeld puts on a pretty good show come Paris Fashion Week. As someone who actually takes an active interest in it, I’m always pretty excited to see what King Karl will turn the Grand Palais into this time, and my expectations have always been met. Except this time, when they were exceeded beyond measure. Having previously turned the palace into settings like supermarkets and abandoned cinemas, this year, Lagerfeld transformed the space into the ‘Boulevard Chanel’ and as his finale, the models, led by Karl himself and Cara Delevingne, marched down the runway boasting placards that read things such as ‘Ladies First’ and ‘History is HER story’. There was even a male model sporting a ‘He for She’ sign, supporting the ‘game changing’ (according to Vanity Fair) speech Emma Watson gave to the UN last week.

Source: Dazed Digital. Photographer: Lea Colombo
Source: Dazed Digital. Photographer: Lea Colombo

Of course, you have to question Lagerfeld’s motives. How can you not, when there is an entire book dedicated to ‘Karl Quotes’, and so many of them are derogatory remarks about women? He has also been quoted as saying that everything he does is a joke, which begs the question: is he making fun of feminism? It would be easy to dismiss him at this point and to say that, if anything, he’s anti-feminist, and that he should stay out of the conversation if all he can do is poke fun. But to take him at his word here is surely an insult to his genius. After all, after 50 years at the top of one of the biggest and most influential industries in the world, there must be something more behind those ever-present sunglasses, some sort of awareness beyond clothes and himself. And that’s when you realise that as the head designer at Chanel, probably the biggest fashion house on the planet, Lagerfeld has the final word on what’s fashionable and what’s not, which doesn’t stop with clothes.

It’s clear, then – and very exciting, too – that feminism is fashionable. In 2014 we’ve been made hyper aware of new wave, multi-faceted feminism, from the #freethenipple campaign garnering international support, right down to Emma Watson telling the world that feminism does not mean ‘man hating’. As problematic as her speech might have been for some, the fundamentals of what she said were important, and up until she said them, unheard by most.

Source: Dazed Digital. Photographer: Lea Columbo
Source: Dazed Digital. Photographer: Lea Columbo

One of the concepts Watson attempted to deconstruct was that of the misandrist feminist – the unglamorous, dowdy, bra burning, “we hate the menz” stereotype – and in one fell swoop, Lagerfeld has done the job for her. Remember the “This is what a feminist looks like” campaign? Take that slogan and put it underneath a bunch of supermodels in Chanel and you pretty much stamp the (ridiculous) idea that being a feminist makes you unattractive right into the ground.

Lagerfeld has continued in the footsteps of the likes of Caitlin Moran, Beyonce, Lena Dunham and Joseph Gordon-Levitt by bringing feminism into a new realm. And just like those before him, there are questions about the sincerity with which he’s done it. But, despite what opinions people (myself included) may have about Lagerfeld, or indeed any of the above, the bottom line is that feminism is now a part of what we wear, as well as what we read and watch and listen to. Which can only be a good thing for the ongoing feminist campaign. And if we’re lucky, it’ll hold as tight a grip on its place in fashion as skinny jeans have done, and it will never, ever go away.

CategoriesHannah Beer