Finn McRedmond: The worst party of the year celebrated the worst person in fashion. That is exactly as it should be

Argument that we should not worship a man who was a jerk misses the point. Karl Lagerfeld, the controversial choice for Met Gala, was brilliant because he was not nice

ASAP Rocky (L) and Rihanna at the 2023 Met Gala, the annual benefit for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, in New York. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

The worst party of the year happened on Monday night: The Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute Gala. It’s the Oscars of fashion, apparently.

Between you and me, it reads far more like a parade of unhinged A-listers, all trying to look more ridiculous than the last. But it was better than usual this year, because it was held in honour of the fashion behemoth and renowned controversialist, the late Karl Lagerfeld. Lagerfeld made beautiful clothes – some of the most beautiful clothes we have ever seen – but he did not have a lot of patience for anyone but the thin, rich and beautiful.

In fact, it is hard to think of a more cartoonish villain, dressed in fingerless gloves, starched shirts, cravats, dark sunglasses, black trousers, with a sleek white ponytail. He loved his cat Choupette so much that she has her own agent and inheritance (cats: famously the preferred pets of the evil). And he was derisory of #MeToo, gay marriage, fat people, women, immigrants. Frankly, if you were asked to come up with a fictional baddy, writing Karl Lagerfeld would be too on the nose. He is just about as brutish as they come.

Karl Lagerfeld on the catwalk in 2017. Photograph: Ian Langsdon/EPA

The veneration of the designer on Monday night prompted a slew of predictable antagonism. The argument is as simple as it is uninspired: we shouldn’t worship a man who everyone knows was a total jerk. It’s always the same for the famous Bad Male creators of history, constantly hauled in front of the crowd to have their personality dissected, paraded as perfect examples of the tyranny of masculinity.


The only way his nastiness would matter is if Lagerfeld were your father, your husband, your friend. He might not make a great local politician, either

Bo-oo-ooring! We need to get more comfortable with complicated people. Something has happened recently, in the last 10 years or so, that has made the character traits of public figures and artists more important a question than their output. It’s the logical end point of an increasingly individualised world, one that sees every person as the sum of their good and bad traits rather than a member of a much broader ecosystem. It’s a disposition that forgets the obvious point that maybe Karl Lagerfeld was brilliant precisely because he wasn’t nice. Nastiness and genius is a common comorbidity, after all.

Maybe we can be awestruck by his reverence for beauty without having to condone his bigotry. Perhaps we do not have to love all of him to respect some of him. And besides, the only way his nastiness would matter is if Lagerfeld were your father, your husband, your friend. He might not make a great local politician, either.

But for everyone else? The only thing that ought to matter is his legacy.

Barry Keoghan dons tartan tweed suit by Burberry for his Met Gala debutOpens in new window ]

French fashion designer Olivier Rousteing arrives at the 2023 Met Gala. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

His work shaped the greatest fashion houses – Balmain, Chloe, Chanel. In fact, Lagerfeld brought Chanel back from the grave and dragged it kicking and screaming into modernity. He was an obsessive reader, curious, funny, and yes – very, very mean. But his version of beauty was his lodestar.

That purity of vision is brave and admirable. In the midst of the 2008 recession Lagerfeld did not dampen his ambitions but instead went bigger, more absurd and more exciting than ever before. And as every brand around him panicked about their climate credentials, Lagerfeld, nonplussed, shipped an entire iceberg from Sweden to Paris (not a eco-friendly thing to do…).

The vagaries of public opinion seemed to mean little to him. In fact, Lagerfeld is a perfect antidote to the worst impulses of fashion.

In 2017, Dior went viral with its €550 T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “We Should All Be Feminists”. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez attended the Met Gala in 2021 wearing a dress plastered with the statement “Tax The Rich”. These are stunts designed for virality.

But they are also more pernicious than that: it is as if to say that women can only justify looking beautiful if she sends a political message as she does it; that we have to sew morals into our clothes; that beauty on its own is not enough, in fact, women must atone for it. Whatever feminism is, I am sure it is not this.

So we owe something to Lagerfeld. He understood that fashion – something as ultimately inconsequential as a dress – was neither “moral or immoral”, it is something to be worn, to make people look beautiful. He is right. But modern luxury is preoccupied with morality, as though it is the job of a fashion house or a model or a runway show to put the world to rights. It hardly needs stating that if you’re looking towards Chanel for your social advocacy, you’re probably looking in the wrong place. So, I think the Met Gala did the right thing on Monday by dedicating the party to Lagerfeld. It was a vote for beauty for beauty’s sake; a vote for the greatest legacy in fashion; a vote against hyper-individualism; a vote for a brilliant mind with a weak moral fibre. Lagerfeld should be venerated as great. No one needs to think he was good.