Fashion legend Karl Lagerfeld has died at age 85. We take a quick look at the life of the creative genius, who’s admired for his passion, strong work ethic, quirky persona and immense talent, seen in the reinvention of French luxury fashion house Chanel.
Who can forget Karl’s signature pony-tailed white hair? The designer is also often seen donning black sunglasses, dark suits, fingerless gloves and high starched collars, but he’s most recognised for his iconic ‘do.
Apparently he’s had the ponytail since 1976, and the snowy white colour is derived not from dye, but from a “white powder” that’s actually Klorane dry shampoo.
“I am like a caricature of myself, and I like that. It is like a mask. And for me the Carnival of Venice lasts all year long,” he had said.
Due to his German heritage (he was born in Hamburg and was the son of businessman Otto Lagerfeld, who owned a company that produced and imported evaporated milk), he was often referred to as The Kaiser (the German word for Emperor) by fashion insiders.
After all, he was at the heart of not one but three major fashion houses — Chloé, Fendi and finally, Chanel, not to mention his own namesake brand, Karl Lagerfeld.
Karl’s big break came when he won first prize for a sketch of a coat in a design competition in 1955. The famed Pierre Balmain, who wound up making the coat, was so impressed that he offered him a job as his assistant.
That kickstarted his six decade career in the industry: He went on to become Jean Patou’s art director three years later, but his first collection, which he debuted under the pseudonym Roland Karl, was booed at.
He quickly rebounded, increasingly garnering acclaim in his five years there. He joined Chanel in 1983, spending 36 years at the house.
When Karl took over Chanel as chief designer, with an aim to modernise the fashion house, the brand was floundering and barely surviving off its perfume sales.
“Everybody said, ‘Don’t touch it. It’s dead,’ ” he once told New York magazine. “But when people said it was dead and hopeless, I said it was interesting.”
He went on to revolutionise it, injecting youthfulness into the brand and making it more accessible, taking it from a small house to an industry leader.
He was also the one to introduce the interlocked “CC” monograph. Chanel released financial figures for the first time in 2018, revealing that it had made a cool $9.62 billion in sales last year.
Although he was fiercely-private, Karl had a larger than life personality and was no stranger to controversy. He took jabs at celebrities (once calling Adele “a little too fat”), declared an allergy on flip-flops, and dissed sweatpants.
“Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants,” he once said. He also had a very high opinion of himself. “I’m very much down to earth, just not this earth.”
In 2001, Karl looked at himself and did not like what he saw. He proceeded to go on a strict diet, created specially for him by a Dr Jean-Claude Houdret, which led him to lose a whopping 42kg in just one year.
“I suddenly wanted to dress differently, to wear clothes designed by Hedi Slimane,” he explained, adding that fashion was for younger and slimmer men. He went on to pen a book called The Karl Lagerfeld Diet.
Often seen with the designer is his white haired Birman, Choupette, who has appeared with him in photo shoots and other appearances. The famous feline was gifted to him by French model Baptiste Giabiconi after he babysat the cat while Baptiste was away.
The eight-year-old has her own social media accounts and has inspired many of Karl’s designs. Apparently, the pampered puss has two private maids to tend to her every need, and she even owns an iPad.
Despite his age and declining health, Karl never rested on his laurels, working tirelessly to churn out collection after collection for Chanel. Besides his work for the French brand, he was busy with his own label, designed costumes for theatre and musical performances, took on partnerships with other well-known figures as well as high-street brands (such as H&M and Macy’s), and even photographed his own campaigns.
In fact, he was slated to be present for fittings this week for the forthcoming Chanel womenswear show on March 5. “Why should I stop working? If I do, I’ll die and it’ll be all finished,” he once said.
Karl missed the Chanel haute couture show in Paris in January, which sparked speculation about his health.
Known for his customary walk down the runway to close the show, the brand had said at the time that he was “feeling tired”, and it was his request that his righthand woman, Virginie Viard “represent him and greet the guests”.
Reports say he was admitted to a hospital in Paris on Monday night and died on Tuesday morning.