The caustic Karl Lagerfeld was never one to hold his tongue. But on Friday he took his famously biting brand of social criticism to a whole new level, questioning the intelligence of France’s recently elected president.
Lagerfeld, 79, a German-born fashion designer who is now based in Paris, has a long history of going overboard with his remarks.
To wit: Russian men are ugly (except for the one currently dating Naomi Campbell.) Pippa Middleton, sister of Catherine the Duchess of Cambridge, has an unfortunate face. British singer Adele is a little too fat. Andy Warhol was physically repulsive.
It’s not just targeted barbs -- Lagerfeld is a practiced generalist as well. Short men are mean, and murderous! Women who wear sweatpants have lost control over their lives. People who don’t like skinny models are really just overweight moms who like to eat chips while watching television.
These (repulsive? entertaining?) opinions all have one thing in common: they’re based on pure aesthetics, on physicality. But on Friday, Lagerfeld pushed it into the realm of the political (and metaphysical).
His unfortunate target was none other than Francois Hollande, the Socialist President of France. According to France24, Lagerfeld told the Spanish edition of Marie Claire, a global women’s magazine, that Hollande is an “imbecile” whose economic plans will bring France into ruin.
“Hollande hates the rich. He clearly wants to punish them -- they’ll leave [the country] and nobody will invest,” he said.
“Foreigners won’t invest, and things will stop working. Apart from fashion, jewelry, perfume and wine, France has no edge. Nothing else sells. Who buys French cars? Not me.”
Lagerfeld is not alone. Plenty of mostly-affluent people - in France and abroad -- have criticized the pro-growth policies of Hollande, who favors taxing the rich in order to increase spending on the struggling middle class.
The president’s first annual budget, submitted in late September, called for US$26 billion in additional taxes. That’s including Hollande’s oft-touted 75 percent marginal tax rate for anyone making more than a million euros per annum.
Critics say the policy will push job-creators to move elsewhere -- British Prime Minister David Cameron ridiculed the tax, saying he would “roll out the red carpet” to any French investors who wanted to try their luck on British soil.
Fears of a wealth exodus came to a head last month when France’s richest man, Bernard Arnault, sought citizenship in neighboring Belgium. Arnault, worth $41 billion as estimated by Forbes, lives in Paris and heads the LVMH luxury goods empire.
Sounds an awful lot like Lagerfeld, who is the creative director of a very famous Parisian luxury goods empire called Chanel.
But is Lagerfeld right? Should Hollande ease up on his anti-rich rhetoric? On the other hand, can we trust an eccentric fashion mogul whose most famous recent creation was a purse as big and round as a hula hoop?
The French public is divided somewhat evenly, but Hollande’s approval rating is definitely on its way down. It fell to a new low of 41 percent this month, according to Le Figaro, a French daily paper.
At least Hollande’s old flame -- Ségolène Royal, the fellow Socialist politician who had four children with the current president before they split in 2007 -- has got the president’s back.
“There is no place for insults, especially from a designer who benefits from the image and prestige of France,” she said in response to Lagerfeld’s comments, according to Agence France-Presse.
“I hope he will apologize," she added.
If we’ve learned anything at all about Lagerfeld over the years, that’s probably never going to happen.
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