Canadian designer Hayley Elsaesser has built her career around fun, colourful fashion showcased on bodies of all shapes, sizes and abilities.
“To me it’s just obscene that beauty can be found in one set of measurements and one certain height and if you don’t adhere to that one specific tiny, cookie-cutter portion of our society, then you’re not worthy to be a model and you’re not beautiful,” she says.
That vision of beauty within fashion is exactly why recent comments from Karl Lagerfeld—the famed designer behind Chanel, Fendi and his own self-titled brand—enraged Elsaesser.
In an interview with Numéro, Lagerfeld spilled an entire pot’s worth of tea on all the things he hates about the fashion industry, including “stupid” models and the #MeToo movement.
“I’m fed up with it. I don’t even eat pig [in France the #MeToo movement’s known as #BalanceTonPorc],” Lagerfeld says. “What shocks me most in all of this are the starlets who have taken 20 years to remember what happened. Not to mention the fact there are no prosecution witnesses. That said I cannot stand Mr. Weinstein.”
Those words prompted Elsaesser to post an impassioned response on Instagram—a post which has been viewed more than 1,600 times and received hundreds of comments.
After reading the #KarlLagerfeld interview I thought I’d take my own advice from my last post and say something. He’s been problematic for literally decades and heralded as a fashion genius for the same amount of time. This speaks volumes about the fashion industry. It’s an industry that looks the other way and supports extremely dangerous ideals and practices. It treats models like props, and not like real people. It puts bottom lines and fast fashion ahead of workers safety. It turns its nose up at you and tells you you don’t belong. This used to make me feel like I wasn’t enough. Like I needed to be skinnier and “more normal”. Until I realized that this was total BS. I love fashion because it brings people together, it can help you express who you are, and it can make you feel the most powerful and amazing you’ve ever felt. All of the negative sides of the industry just make me work even harder. I want to be a successful business that’s inclusive, positive, and makes people feel good. This is why I’m so adamant about using diversity with the models I use. You don’t need to be a certain size to look good in clothing and this idea is so dangerous. In my early years in the industry I saw teenagers! starving themselves and becoming very ill to reach a certain set of measurements someone like Lagerfeld decided. I’ve pushed hard to use models of all shapes and sizes because my fashion industry is one where you feel like you belong. At times I have jeopardized opportunities and commercial success because of my model choices. But I also think this is why so many people love my brand. Because they can finally see themselves on a major runway and it’s an amazing feeling. It’s time to take a hard look at where your money is going and the brands you are supporting. Fashion isn’t frivolous, it is an industry that generates over a TRILLION dollars globally annually. Every time I hear the cha-ching of a sale my heart skips a beat. It means us, the little guys fighting the good fight have won this time. Share + or – experiences below and let’s get talking. #boycottkarllagerfeld #notmyfashionindustry #model #fashion #rant
“[Lagerfeld has] been problematic for literally decades and heralded as a fashion genius for the same amount of time,” she wrote on IG. “This speaks volumes about the fashion industry. It’s an industry that looks the other way and supports extremely dangerous ideals and practices.”
Contrary to Lagerfeld’s views, Elsaesser says that the #MeToo movement has been important across all industries as a way to empower individuals to stand up and speak out about the prevalence of sexual harassment.
“In fashion, like many other industries, men often hold the power. Many models are very young women who can be taken advantage of. A great example is the human trash bag that is Terry Richardson,” she says. “Everyone knew about his misconduct but it wasn’t until recently that Condé Nast and other major players started taking action. It is never, ever a bad thing to have a power shift to give a voice to someone who normally wouldn’t have one.”
Not only did Lagerfeld’s interview completely undermine the importance of the movement, but according to the Canadian designer, it is yet another example of Lagerfeld being a total hypocrite.
“I read somewhere that now you must ask a model if she is comfortable with posing. It’s simply too much, from now on, as a designer, you can’t do anything…If you don’t want your pants pulled about, don’t become a model! Join a nunnery, there’ll always be a place for you in the convent,” Lagerfeld told Numéro.
But Elsaesser specifically remembers Chanel’s spring 2014 collection, where models closed the show toting picket signs with slogans like “he for she” and “history is her story” and “ladies first”—messages that seem to directly contradict Lagerfeld’s *actual* views expressed in his recent interview.
And Elsaesser wasn’t the only one who responded to Lagerfeld’s offensive interview. That nunnery quote prompted a tweet from supermodel Chrissy Teigen.
surely there is an in-between here, karl pic.twitter.com/hCPWNaRCWC
— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) April 14, 2018
Actor and activist Rose McGowan—one of the first women to speak against Harvey Weinstein—was much more direct in her response, which she posted alongside a photo of her and a nun. “Karl, I read your disgusting quote last night. It made me feel dirty…You’ve made so much money off of women’s insecurities, it’s time for you to ride off into the misogynistic sunset,” McGowan wrote on Instagram.
Like McGowan, Elsaesser views Lagerfeld’s comments as further proof of his misogynistic mindset towards women, specifically that he sees models more as props than as people. That type of view is a common trope within the fashion industry, Elsaesser explains, and she has actively tried to combat those standards by casting models ranging from 16 to 70, sizes 2 to 18, 5’1″ to 6’7″ and an array of gender identities.
Elsaesser notes that in the industry, she’s heard people compare models to clothes hangers—an old joke that she thinks needs to be retired.
“I think that’s so silly because for me, the models bring my clothing to life…I don’t want someone who is just going to let the clothing wear them, I want them to wear the clothing and be able to bring it to life and stand out,” she says.
Lagerfeld may be at the top of the fashion industry, but with his history of problematic statements and now this recent interview, Elsaesser wants to make it clear that what he describes is #notmyfashionindustry.
And that’s what motivated the Canadian designer to take on one of the biggest names in fashion via Instagram in the first place: “I didn’t want people going into the industry to think that [what he said] was OK.”
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