Braving the crowds on opening weekend, I ventured to the Met for “Karl Lagerfeld: Line of Beauty” with my best fashion friend. The virtual queue boasted a whopping 240-minute wait, forcing us into the arms of a questionable all-you-can-eat sushi deal nearby. My stomach full of spicy tuna in a way I had to ignore and the queue down to 30 minutes, we walked back over and ventured up and into the Tisch Galleries. Proving that we were in fact summoned not once, but twice, we were in.
As I stood in the stark white room. The scratches of a pencil played on a loop while we learned what the hell Hogarth was doing here, all the usual “Lagerfield’s a genius” talk, and gazed upon a giant modern table cluttered with his favorite books, magazines, and art supplies. I began to feel trapped. Walking through the first selection of Lagerfeld’s early work with Fendi and Chloe my feelings were confirmed. Fellow museum-goers packed in like tinned fish photographed each centimeter of fabric. I was too busy panicking to count how many times I heard please step back from the exhibit.
I’ll admit I suffered at the expense of my own eagerness; it was naive to assume that “Line of Beauty'' wouldn't be stuffed to the gills. Even so, the narrow channels and high ceilings did not account for the popularity such a controversial figure would inevitably invite. The curation found itself between the chasms of an eerie cave and the cruelest, sometimes most beautiful, fashion show ever to exist. Mannequins soared into the sky, each in their own private 3-sided coffin, displaying some of Lagerfield’s best (beading, camp, flowers made of fur) and worst (shredded jeans and t-shirts with his face printed on). There was much to admire as I wandered through, never quite knowing which way to go. Yet, my uneasiness didn’t subside even as the bottlenecked crowds dispersed into the world of lines, both serpentine and straight. Visuals intertwined with this theme as I suppose they should be. But when the theme is a man acclaimed for genius and known for infamous hateful remarks what else could the exhibitors do but place mannequins high above our heads? It’s as though Lagerfeld is still looking down on us peasants, not skinny or rich enough to wear his clothes.
Despite progress in the fashion world representing different bodies, Lagerfeld’s ghost still haunts us with white, paper-thin beauty standards for which he proudly designed. A couture gown made of actual gold thread on exhibit with a bust-line for a AA cup–and even that seems like a generous measurement—might as well have pointed and laughed at us. Reading only a handful of quotes from the so-called “genius” is all one needs to feel unsettled and unwelcome here. Gems include criticism of the #MeToo movement for restricting designers and defending those accused of sexual assault; the appearances of Adele, Heidi Klum, and Pippa Middleton; Angela Merkel’s acceptance of Syrian refugees, which he said could justify another Holocaust and made him want to relinquish his German citizenship. He simultaneously hated Muslims in his home country and used lines from the Qu’ran on 1994 Chanel runway designs. In 2007. Lagerfeld also claimed that his biting persona was an act.
The exhibit acknowledged Lagerfield’s bigoted reputation with the catch-all word “controversial” on the first batch of wall text. Then we moved on, thrust back into a world not too far into the past. Here lies perhaps my biggest problem with this theme: a complete lack of retrospection. And how could there be? Lagerfield passed away a mere 3 years ago, rendering this choice rushed and dishonest. Sure, I saw beautiful, inspired garments I couldn’t help but gush over. But ultimately, I felt called to compromise my own values, discomfort, and even my body to appreciate a man who would’ve called me “fat.” More concerning is how this exhibit laid the wet cement for a budding new era of heroin chic bodies.
Whether curved or sharp, the line of beauty here is razor thin, determined by a man we need to let fade into history—at least until we can have a proper discourse on who runs the fashion world.