Legendary Designer Karl Lagerfeld Dies Aged 85
This self-portrait is taken from the cover of our 10th Anniversary issue.
Karl Lagerfeld died on the job, which is exactly how he would have wanted it. Retirement, even at the age of 85 was never contemplated. The longest-running, most successful, hardest working designer in fashion passed away in Paris in the midst of preparing his Autumn/Winter collections for Fendi and Chanel, where he had a lifetime contract. Lagerfeld despised leisure, spitting the word out of his full lips as if disgusted by the taste. In just one of his many Karlisms, he described himself as “working class, working with class.” Lagerfeld lived to work, as opposed to the other way round.
For 54 years he designed for Fendi, and spent 36 at Chanel. He was warned against taking the role at the storied French house in 1983. Back then, Chanel was considered a dusty relic, sustained only by its perfume revenues. Lagerfeld gave it new vitality and relevance making the double C (a logo rarely used by Chanel herself) the status symbol of our age. His unsentimental, anti-nostalgic approach served him well at Chanel where he gave a blueprint for how to handle a heritage house: use the codes to tell modern stories. Lagerfeld did that masterfully. Chanel’s classic tweed jacket and skirts were vamped-up into the archetypal power suit of the 80’s, he fashioned her iconic bag chain into a supermarket shopping basket for a 2015 show that commented on consumerism. And on the cusp of the current obsession with trainers, Lagerfeld showed them at Haute couture (you had to buy the whole look to get hold of the sneakers). From Chanel surfboards to Ghetto Blasters, ear muffs to cycling shorts, Lagerfeld’s roving eye and encyclopaedic brain offered a constantly updated Chanel version of contemporary culture.
Lagerfeld was made for fashion. He bored easily and moved on without sentiment or regret. After building a world-class collection of art deco in the 1970s, he sold it all and became obsessed with the Memphis movement. Lagerfeld assembled an elaborate collection of key pieces and prototypes from the Milan-based postmodernist design group and installing them in his extraordinary apartment in Monaco. But by 1991, he’d auctioned the collection and moved on to a new obsession. He embraced changed and was not afraid to change himself. In the late 1990s, he famously lost 92lbs so he could fit into Hedi Slimane’s skinny Dior tailoring.
He had a Warholian instinct for image making and his own look was a carefully curated, instantly recognisable uniform. His white ponytail and dark glasses are so iconic they translate to any language and any medium. Fendi even made him in fur (the Karlito kick-started the whole bag accessory fad). He even appeared as a character in the violent video game Grand Theft Auto IV.
The lack of sentimentality extended to himself. He hated the past – his own especially. Many things displeased him, including Pippa Middleton’s face, unprofessionalism, hot drinks, short ugly men, cankles, sweat pants, and New Year’s Eve. What made him happy was work, reading and his pampered cat Choupette. His was an extraordinary life, and he lived it extraordinarily well.
Chanel has appointed Virginie Viard, director of Chanel’s fashion creation studio, to take over from Lagerfeld.