Met Gala ’23 Ignores Chanel’s Awful History with Controversial Theme



Coco Chanel, who was a Nazi spy, sits at a desk in Los Angeles in 1931. From Los Angeles Times provided via Creative Commons.

Stephanie A. Torres, Staff Writer

Tonight begins the biggest fashion night of the year: the Met Gala. Over the years, the event has been known for its iconic outfits and celebrity star power, but as of recently, the Met Gala has been a site of controversy. For example, in 2021, A Black Lives Matter protest erupted outside the Met Gala but was never brought up by an of the celebrity attendees or Anna Wintor, the chairwoman of the Met Gala. This year, the Met Gala is caught in a new web, as its theme will be honoring the late Coco Chanel, the founder of the Chanel brand, and Karl Lagerfeld, who would take over Chanel in 1983 until his death in 2019. 

Unfortunately, the Met Gala is not honoring them just in terms of their creativity but also their personas, which have become just as influential.  The Met Gala and Hollywood coming together to honor these people is a major problem, as it has been well-known for years that both fashion icons were anything but great people.  

So tonight while you’re watching your favorite celebrity walk down the red carpet, just remember that these people are the same ones, knowingly or unknowingly,  honoring racist, Islamophobic, fatphobic, homophobic people.

The controversy started in 2011 when the book “Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War” by Hal Vanguh was published, which states that Coco was a Nazi supporter, homophobic, and anything but a feminist icon ( as many like to say of Coco).

According to the book, when Coco first started her company in 1910, she started going to Nazi parties to push her brand ahead. For those who may not know, the Nazis were a German political party from the 1920s-1940s who would take over Europe and are responsible for the death of over 11 million  Jewish, Romani, LGBTQ, and Polish people through genocide.  

Coco’s alliance with the Nazis was so friendly that she would later become a Nazi spy for Berlin, Germany. As a spy, Coco would recruit agents to be a part of the Third Reich (the Nazi government in Germany), used a spy name, and despite being married to and sharing a company with her husband, she also had affairs with  Hugh Richared Aruther Grosvener, a known Nazi supporter in England.
She would also have an affair with Nazi Berlin officer Hans Gunther, who joined her in spy missions and convinced her to try to convince a  British officer, another person she was having an affair with, to continue with World War ll. When Hans Gunther faced a prison sentence for his part in World War ll, Coco would pay for his funeral, medical, and family bills. 

Secondly, even though the media likes to call her a feminist for creating the first women’s pants, let’s not forget that Coco had every reason to not call herself a feminist.  A huge example of her having anti- Feminist views was the fact that she did not stand up to men and once again was a social climber by allowing herself to get around in the fashion industry by sleeping with married men to advance her agenda. This showcases that she did not work hard for herself and depended on people with power, especially men.  Coco’s use of sex to achieve power is very anti-feminist because women who claim to be feminists instead try their best to show men that power can be given to anyone.

Overall Coco truly was a social climber and even a hypocrite. For example, after World War ll ended, Coco decided to move to Switzerland and would meet the Werthimeneter family, who ironically enough are of Jewish descent. Paul Werthimenter would help her out the best by expanding the Chanel stores to different parts of the world, and the family is still running the Chanel stores. Secondly,  she would claim to be bisexual by having affairs with women, but during her time with the Nazis, she claimed to hate the LGBTQ community. 

Karl Lagerfeld would take over the company in 1983 and is known for expanding the brand in major ways. He too is being honored in tonight’s event. However, while Lagerfeld wasn’t a Nazi spy like Coco, he too has every reason not to be honored. 

Many of his issues are detailed in this Buzzfeed article, which shows him to be hateful in different ways. The most infamous example was in 2011 when he body-shamed singer Adele, stating “She’s a little fat, but she has a beautiful face.’’ This drew so much backlash that Karl had to publicly admit that as an apology he sent Adele a bunch of Chanel purses. He also claimed that Heidi Kulm was no runway model because “She is simply too heavy.’’ In 2009 he was asked what he thought about plus-sized models his response “No one wants to see curvy women.’’ In that same interview, he was asked about the controversy about thin models his response was, “Only fat people are the ones complaining.’’

 He also criticized people’s intelligence, beliefs, and physical features. When talking about the royal family, he said that Princess Diana was “stupid’’ and said Kate Middleton’s sister is ugly. He also publicly made fun of the skin of the singer Seal, who has a form of lupus called discoid lupus erythematosus, which leaves scars. Lagerfeld was also a huge critic of the MeToo movement. During this time, he also defended stylist Karl Templer, who had just been accused of sexual abuse. 

Lastly, Langerfield’s Islamophobic views are particularly awful, critiquing Muslim immigration in Europe.  In 2017, when asked about Germany taking in Muslim refugees, he said, “One cannot, even if there are decades between them, kill millions of Jews so you can bring millions of their worst enemies in their place.”

In conclusion, writing this article hurts. Much like many in the fashion industry, I love the Chanel brand. If anyone is a fashion lover like me, then it’s really hard to wrap your head around the fact that one of the most iconic designers has such a dark history.

Unfortunately, Chanel isn’t the only high fashion brand to have a problematic past or problematic people working for them; however, Chanel is the company being honored tonight at the biggest fashion event of the year. We can recognize their creativity–the number 5 perfume and pants for women are major–but to honor their personas for a Met Gala theme is irresponsible.