How Do We React When A Legend Dies?

By Ari Rassouli

If you are familiar fashion I’m sure you have heard the news. Karl Lagerfeld, the creative director of Chanel and Fendi, passed away just yesterday on February 19, 2019. Lagerfeld was an icon in the world of fashion design. He has left behind a huge legacy as many fashion lovers as well as fashion designers are hurting as they mourn the loss of a fellow designer who paved the way for modern fashion and design.  

Throughout his life, Lagerfeld accomplished a lot. Born in Germany, he moved to the Paris where he began to pursue his long career in fashion. When Coco Chanel died, Lagerfeld eventually took it into his own hands to rebrand the label and transform Chanel into the brand it is recognized as today.

As Miley Cyrus put it in her recent Instagram post, “In recent years, We have and will continue to lose so many legends…. Time goes by and inevitably we lose the ones who paved the path before us to thrive.” When these powerful figures pass it is interesting to see how the public reacts. We can look to media outlets and social media for the acknowledgments made and tributes paid.

Following Lagerfeld’s death, there has been a huge media presence surrounding the tragedy. Several celebrities such as Victoria Beckham, paid tribute to the beloved designer along with models, fans, fellow fashion designers and even the first lady.

Stock image from Dreamstime

Though Lagerfeld led a very successful life, he encountered controversy because of his narrow ideas of beauty. Along with posts commemorating his life and legacy also came articles reminding people of the inappropriate comments he made throughout his career. He was well known for fat shaming curvy women and favoring extremely skinny models. An article in Vox expressed some of his most controversial quotes. A well known incident is when Lagerfeld made a comment regarding the weight of Adele, referring to her as “A little too fat”. Lagerfeld also battled with backlash surrounding his views of the #MeToo movement as he was not supporting of the movement. His comments came off as rather misogynistic.

The insensitive statements that Lagerfeld made are not forgotten, but many powerful women choose to take his death to heart and remember the positive impacts that he made in the world of fashion instead. The editor and chief of Vogue magazine, Anna Wintour,  described Lagerfeld as brilliant, wicked, funny, generous, and kind. These are the things that make his legacy more than just designs and styles. Lagerfeld will be remembered for his dark suits, leather gloves, white pony-tail and tinted sunglasses, not to mention his talent and contribution to the world of design and fashion.

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This Article Has 13 Comments
  1. Taylor Kissinger says:

    Hi Ari,

    It’s always sad to see an icon die. You mentioned some of the controversies surrounding Lagerfeld’s past. I wonder what the ratio is of people praising his accomplishments on social media compared to the number of people criticizing his statements. Like we discussed in class, have any brands paid tribute to him online? If so, was it done in good taste?

  2. TJ McCourt says:

    Ari, this is a very interesting post! It is amazing that in 2019, powerful men such as Karl Lagerfeld can get away with saying such awful things about women, yet still be respected by so many. I did see all over the internet yesterday that he had passed away and people seemed to have nothing but nice things to say about him. I do suppose that when someone passes, it is appropriate to only post the great things about them.

  3. Isabelle Shattuck says:

    Hi Ari, I enjoyed reading your unique blog post; I personally forget influencers such as Karl Lagerfeld play such a big role in fashion today. I also saw many tribute posts to Lagerfeld on my social media, and am glad that he was able to receive the recognition for the path that he has pathed for many aspiring fashion influencers. When you mentioned the backlash he received for not admiring the #MeToo movement, and the comments he made about women body types made me realize that his reputation wasn’t tarnished like some other influencers would’ve been in a similar circumstance.

  4. Tom Bridger says:

    Super interesting article. I was thinking about this exact thing after seeing the death of Karl. It seems that there are three buckets of reactions following the death of an icon/celeb: 1) Memorialize, 2) Chastise, 3) General apathy. A lot of these icons/celebs lay dormant in our general consciousness until the time of their death. At that moment, whether wanting attention or involvement in global sentiment, people feel the need to chime in on social media. As we have seen with Karl, George Bush Sr., and John McCaine, people often feel the need to respond to the outpouring of support and condolences with sobering reminders of the evil/bad these people committed. Social media and the internet provide a platform for people to make and disseminate more informed decisions, something that we previously didn’t see with the passing of icons in the past.

  5. Ari,

    This was a very insightful post! I think losing some as iconic as Karl Lagerfeld, puts things into perspective, especially in the fashion world. Creativity is all about being inspired and his passing brings up a lot of new ideas that could influence the industry. I understand why he has gotten backlash from being a harsh critic of not being inclusive. However, Chanel is a very high end brand and he was pretty old so I understand why his perspective could be like that. Not that I agree, but I could see where he is coming from and after all it was is brand and he wanted it seen in a certain light, which is what he did. Every passing of an icon leaves those of us here hopeless initially, but I always feel like there is some beauty that comes out of it when the creation of new ideas.

  6. Kirbi Campbell says:

    Ari,

    This was a great post and topic! It is so interesting to see how people react in times of death, especially large public figures. Obviously, many people reacted in different ways yesterday but through his harsh words, he will most likely be remembered as the fashion icon that he was. Especially with all of the celebrity who were posting their comments about him as well, they all seemed saddened and grateful for all that he had done for them. It is an important thought to keep in mind though going forward and with the discussion of “legacy” and what people leave behind when they pass.

  7. Daymon Standridge says:

    Ari,

    This was wonderful read. Thank you for choosing a topic that I hadn’t known much about, I feel very enlightened. Death is very complicated and in the world of high profile celebrities, lines can get very blurred as to how that person gets remembered. In terms of fashion, I have found that icons usually have very strong opinions and whether they are deemed right or wrong can be very subjective. The fashion industry is very particular and blunt, and I think it is unfortunate that there are people speaking negatively of someone who has recently lost their life. However, I understand the idea of not supporting someone who isn’t nice. As I said, this is where things become complicated. At the very least, it is nice to see that there are so many people who will miss him and the brand he is leaving behind is better off having had him on their team.

  8. Jason Tseng says:

    This is very interesting, this is probably the most stunning news in 2019. There are lots of celebrities post the new about Karl Lagerfeld’s death. This makes start thinking about the power of social media. In the present, people can get the news very quick and easy just by open their social media. Moreover, we can also send the condolence post to the people we respect and love.

  9. Ashleigh Maier says:

    Over the last few years, its been both sad, but also interesting to see how social media blows up after a popular figure dies. This one took me by surprise, because I wasn’t very aware of the way Karl Lagerfeld was misogynistic. So it was interesting that it took his death for me to learn the controversial opinions some had of him. I can’t say I was surprised, being that the fashion industry is much more particular about the way people look than any other industry, obviously, but it doesn’t make my feelings about him any less conflicted.

  10. Emily Gibson says:

    Ari,

    I think celebrity deaths affect everyone in our society. I think this pairs well with Carly’s recent post about how we become engulfed in celebrities lives through social media. I know personally, the celebrity death that has hurt the most for me has been the death of Alan Rickman, AKA Severus Snape in Harry Potter. His acting in that movie and all his other movies was phenomenal, and I think his death affected a lot of movie lovers. I remember hearing my parents when I was younger hearing about a celebrity they enjoyed as kids passing away and them being sad about it. I know we are going to continue to lose legends like Lagerfeld and we will all continue to celebrate their lives.

  11. Oleene Perera says:

    As a huge Chanel fan, I mentioned his death on my Instagram account but with a footnote stating that I didn’t support his views or mannerisms & only respected his incredible art & contributions. Humans are multifaceted and times are changing very quickly – often times much more quickly than behavior. We do need to hold ourselves accountable though & them too.

  12. Lexi Naone says:

    Ari, thank you for sharing! It’s sad to see a legend pass away and for many people, the best way to celebrate their lives is by taking to social media. Like Ashleigh said, it’s interesting to learn about the controversies that Karl Lagerfeld was part of it after he passed away.

  13. Carly Grossman says:

    Hi Ari! I really enjoyed reading your article. It’s always sad to see a legend pass away. A lot of companies and brands try to take advantage of these sad times, which I think is nice in order to celebrate the lives and the legacy that these people left behind. I just hope companies are remembering these people in a tasteful and respectful way. Otherwise, backlash is in store for them. I remember seeing the different posts about his death, and as much as it was saddening, it was enlightening to see all of the things and legacies he left behind. Thanks for sharing!

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