Author: Ariella Zagorsky
This past week the world lost Karl Lagerfeld, the “Soul of Fashion” and a culture pioneer. His death was announced by Chanel, where he served as the creative director since 1983 and had a lifetime contract. Chanel’s chief executive, Alain Wertheimer, commented, “Thanks to his creative genius, generosity and exceptional intuition, Karl Lagerfeld was ahead of his time, which widely contributed to the house of Chanel’s success throughout the world.”
He also served as the creative director of Fendi since 1965 and founded his own line in 1984. The New York Times wrote that Lagerfeld was “the most prolific designer of the 20th and 21st centuries ... and the prototype of the modern luxury fashion industry.”
Lagerfeld was born in Hamburg, Germany. He was most influenced by his mother, Elisabeth Bahlmann, who encouraged his wit and quirky personality. He told the press, “When I was 14 I wanted to smoke because my mother smoked like mad, but my mother said: ‘you shouldn’t smoke. Your hands are not that beautiful, and that shows when you smoke.’”
As a teenager, he ran off to Paris, where he lived most of his life. There, he entered the International Wool Secretariat fashion competition and won the coat category without any academic or professional experience. Since then, he has been an icon. A $200 Karl Barbie doll sold out in less than an hour. He has dressed celebrities including Rihanna, Julianne Moore, Christine Lagarde and Princess Caroline of Monaco, and he has acted as a photographer, publisher and author.
Additionally, he has made an impact in the interior design industry, credited with Monaco's Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo, Paris's Hôtel de Crillon, Sofitel SO Singapore and The Grand Lisboa Palace resort and casino in Macau, China among other works.
While his birth year is a matter of dispute (an aspect of his shroud of mystery), it is generally agreed upon that he was 85 at his death. In his 80s, when many of his colleagues were moving on from the industry, he, with his great fear of boredom, continued to work, designing an average of 14 new collections each year. Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of American Vogue, describes him: “More than anyone I know, he represents the soul of fashion: restless, forward-looking and voraciously attentive to our changing culture.” He has left an impact on the entirety of the fashion industry, his creative genius leaving a legacy forever.
However, his greatest product was his persona. “More myth than man,” he himself admitted “I don’t want to be real in other people’s lives. I want to be an apparition.” And he certainly was. He was a self identified “caricature,” with pale white hair, dark glasses, jeans and gloves.
Lagerfeld was mysterious, seemingly a movie character, with strange conspiracies and stories constantly being spread about him.. The only beverage he drank was diet coke (reportedly 10 a day), had an employee who’s sole role was to manage his 300 iPods and catfished pedophiles as a child.
He allowed rumors to surround him, every so often dropping a strange tidbit of information for the public to wonder about. He never had a romantic partner, but he did at one point say he wished to marry his cat, Choupette, for whom he employed two maids and fed off designer dishes with caviar and chicken paté. Choupette is inheriting 195 million of the $300 million Lagerfeld left behind.
Part of his legacy, however, is more negative. Lagerfeld spoke his mind, expressing disdain at the #MeToo movement and making many misogynistic and fat-shaming comments. This was part of who he was: a peculiar genius who said anything that came to mind, relishing in controversies and mysteries. And while some of his negative qualities should be addressed, it is important to remember the pure genius of the icon Lagerfeld.