Karl Lagerfeld’s ‘Feminist’ Protest During Paris Fashion Week: Real or BS?

karl lagerfeld

Karl Lagerfeld hosted a staged protest feigning support for women’s rights during the highly-anticipated Chanel catwalk show during Paris Fashion Week last month. Was he making a mockery of women? Or truly embracing the issues women face today?

Rightfully so, it’s hard to take anything Karl Lagerfeld does seriously. After all, he once said: “Everything I say is a joke. I myself am a joke.” No one would dare argue with him over that. But he’s also made crude and insensitive remarks, particularly about women, like dismissing their concerns over size-zero models as nothing more than the whinings of “fat mommies with bags of crisps,” reports the Guardian. He’s said “no one wants to see curvy women” – a blanket statement that shows his prejudice and insensitivity.

So, what then was he doing in Paris sending Cara Delevingne out onto the catwalk with a megaphone and plopping a banner reading “Women’s Rights are More than Alright” into Kendall Jenner’s hands? Emma Watson’s He for She campaign, designed to help the world understand and support the principles of gender equality, was also represented in the show. “To a soundtrack of Chaka Khan’s I’m Every Woman broadcast from transistor radios on classic Chanel gold chains, which swung from the young women’s shoulders like the brand’s signature 2.55 bags, models including Gisele Bündchen and Georgia May Jagger came in two or threes, smiling and chatting. The mood this set was very different from the usual silent, single-file parade, which as a rule exudes about as much joie de vivre and personality as a queue for airport customs,” reports the Guardian.

The looks just happened to match the protest theme, even with a masculine edge to them: “[P]sychedelic, with paint-splatter coats, rainbow tweeds and pastel tie-dye bags, worn with peacock-toned eyeshadow and flat gold shoes. The protest theme was hinted at in accessories: a crystal-studded whistle worn as a pendant, nestling among strands of pearls; a bag printed with the legend Make Fashion Not War.”

What everyone seems to want to know is whether or not Lagerfeld has truly developed a sensitivity to women’s issues, or could he just be co-opting them to sell more products?

“I think he was harking back to Coco Chanel’s feminist values – she was very much a strong and empowered woman. I think this just shows that fashion, feminism and empowering women do not have to be mutually exclusive,” Trish Halpin, editor-in-chief of Marie Claire told the Guardian.

Yes, Coco Chanel was a strong and empowered woman. Karl Lagerfeld? Not so much. Plus, in its post-Coco iteration, the Chanel brand has scored an “E” rating—the lowest possible sustainability rating from the group Rank a Brand. In other words, while Coco may have stood for female empowerment, it’s not a hallmark credential in manufacturing its products today. Cara Delevingne may get a megaphone with her makeover, but what about the woman who sewed her Chanel bag? Does she even get a lunch break?

Co-opting feminism to push a runway agenda, which perpetuates a number of myths about women, isn’t a boon for empowerment. It hides the inequality going on behind the runway–the horrors the fashion industry creates for all women—from those forced to create the products, to those forced in other ways to buy them season after season. If Lagerfeld really wanted to send a message of empowerment for women, he would have sent the signs out onto the runway all by themselves, and sent the models out for ice cream.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.