Karl Lagerfeld, one of the most prolific and influential fashion designers in history, died Tuesday in Paris. He was 85.
His death was confirmed by Chanel, for which he has been creative director since 1983. He was also creative director of Fendi since 1965, and the man behind his own iconic line.
“I don't want to be real in other people's lives. I want to be an apparition.” — Karl Lagerfeld
The New York Times called his signature look “high fashion and high camp.” It was coveted by everyone ffrom Princess Caroline to Rihanna, and it made him a household name to this day, even among those born well after his heyday. He was a human caricature (by his own admission) — the deadpan expression, the huge shades, the white pony, those high collars. It was a look that, once he settled on it, never changed.
“Sweatpants are a sign of defeat.” — Karl Lagerfeld
Among Lagerfeld's other achievements: He was a photographer, a book publisher (Edition 7L) and the author of the 2002 diet book The Karl Lagerfeld Diet, which chronicled how he dropped nearly 100 lbs. Sometimes, even wearing black from head to toe is not enough. He was also a noted collector of art, of books (300,000+), clothing and jewelry, and the proud father of his Birman kitty Choupette.
Born in Hamburg in 1933, he went to Paris as a teenager without the benefit of any formal education in the field in which he would become famous. Almost immediately, he won the coat category of what is now called the International Woolmark Prize and began working at Pierre Balmain before switching to Jean Patou. He worked for various other houses, including a decade-long stint with Chloé, ahead of his eternal association with Fendi, a brand he revamped and made hip when it was on the brink of irrelevance.
Animal lovers revile him for his love of fur; he is the creator of fun fur, the man who pushed for luxurious animal skins to be shaved and otherwise displayed irreverently.
“I'm a kind of fashion nymphomaniac who never gets an orgasm.” — Karl Lagerfeld
When he went to Chanel, it was a match made in heaven — his iconoclasty was never more powerful than when it was paired with an iconic, albeit staid, label. He owned the '90s with that approach, and became an unparalleled image-maker, one tailor-made for the era of social media — even if he was in his seventies by then.
Lagerfeld was gay, but ... complicated. Often seen with pretty young things, one of his great loves — Jacques de Bascher — was a wild young man with him Lagerfeld said he never had sex. Instead, he called himself puritanical toward himself, indulgent to everyone around him. Nonetheless, he told Vice he was a frequent customer of escorts and porn stars — his gay card has never been in question.
“I personally only like high-class escorts. I don’t like sleeping with people I really love. I don’t want to sleep with them because sex cannot last, but affection can last forever.” — Karl Lagerfeld
His tact card, however, has.
Lagerfeld was often excoriated for his opinions and remarks, including his bashing of gay marriage as bourgeois (he later supported it), of gay parenting, of Adele's figure, of Pippa Middleton's face, of Germany for opening its borders to Muslims ... the list goes on.
Check out the doc Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco for a great side-eye look at Lagerfeld at his best and very worst.
His death is surely one of the most monumental in the fashion world, and represents the loss of one of the most creative gay minds of the past 100 years.