The smallest big man of fashion has done it again. Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld has offended legions of women all over the world with a damning remark: "No one wants to see curvy women on the catwalk."
Following the comments, the pint-sized designer turned photographer is facing legal action in France from a women's group called "Belle, Ronde, Sexy et je m'assume" (Beautiful, Rounded, Sexy and Fine With It). Spokeswoman Betty Aubriere announced that the group has filed a defamation complaint, saying that Lagerfeld has displayed a defamatory and discriminatory attitude against models with fuller figures.
"There are a lot of young girls who don't feel comfortable in their skin and for them to hear comments like that is terrible," said Aubriere. "We want to see preventative measures in schools so that people understand that curves are often an illness or are genetic, and are not a symptom of poor diet. Today it's him who insults us and tomorrow who will it be?"
In organising a petition against Lagerfeld's comments, the group hopes to focus attention on the French fashion industry where tacit standards for body shape – ie the androgynous look of unnaturally thin models – has obvious negative effects for the models starving themselves to maintain this look, as well as for the consumers who see them in advertisements. This is especially true for young women who strive to look like models in glossy magazines.
And discrimination against curvier people creeps into society in many other ways. In France, there are very few clothes stores that cater for women over size 14. While the rest of the world admires French women for their figures and tomes such as French Women Don't Get Fat sell by the thousands, it's in large part societal pressure that motivates women to stay thin, which translates into a steely discipline over portion sizes.
Lagerfeld, 80, who has spent more than 25 years as creative director of Chanel, is no stranger to controversy. Last year, he sparked an outcry when he said that Adele, the British pop singer "is a little bit too fat, but she has a pretty face and a divine voice".
But why target a singer because of her weight? Surely weight has very little to do with her vocal ability. It's part of the anti-fat bias that faces all celebrities. Adele never set out to be a role model for thinness. In an interview with People magazine she retorted: "I've never wanted to look like models on the cover of magazines. I represent the majority of women and I'm very proud of that."
But the controversy over Adele last year clearly has not stopped Lagerfeld from speaking his mind. Earlier this month on a French talk show he accused "fat people" of wasting France's tax revenue through their health complaints. He said that "the hole in social security" was all down to "diseases caught by people who are too fat".
Why has Lagerfeld embarked on such a crusade against overweight people? It's possibly because he used to be an overweight person himself. Back in 2001, he lost over six stone in 13 months by following a strict diet. But his motivation to lose weight wasn't for health reasons. "Fashion is the healthiest motivation for losing weight," he wrote in his book entitled The Karl Lagerfeld Diet. "For me, it was a matter of clothes. I had no health problems or emotional problems. It is not a good idea to wait until you are unhappy to go on a diet."
Is Lagerfeld terrified of reverting back to being his former, larger self? He may say that people should not wait until they are unhappy to go on a diet, but making oneself unhappy because of body size is hardly a good idea either. And forcing his views on the public is not going to do anyone any favours, least of all himself.
But the bigger problem is that Lagerfeld is not alone in his views – he's just the only one to come out and say it. Magazines and designers only feature healthy-sized or plus-sized models on an occasional basis. Size zero models tend to get hired more than those who carry a few extra pounds. While there may be a supply of healthy women with curves available, demand is still there for the painfully thin look.
'Beautiful, Rounded, Sexy and Fine With It' say that they hope to ignite a debate about size prejudice across the fashion industry worldwide. But will this lawsuit against Lagerfeld be enough to change practices in the long term? Sadly, that remains to be seen.