On Tuesday evening in Paris, at the age of 85, the father of fashion bid us his final au revoir.
Karl Lagerfeld was quite undoubtedly the most prolific and hard-working man in the industry. From a starting point as an assistant to Pierre Balmain in 1955, Lagerfeld has been the creative director of Chanel since 1983, of Fendi since 1965, and of his own eponymous label which he founded in 1984. The tireless brand polyglot was creating on average 14 new collections per year in his 80s, unlike his peers who were at the same time retiring to their yachts and country estates. This number doesn’t even include special projects and collaborations, which the designer also took part in with brands such as H&M. Not satisfied with simply designing the clothes, Lagerfeld began to photograph his own creations and campaigns in 1987.
Lagerfeld’s ceaselessly energetic work ethic extends even beyond fashion and photography. He has also notably been a star of the diet industry. Thousands have flocked to buy the book he wrote about his experience shedding an impossible 43kg with what he called the 3D Diet. Venturing further, the one-man phenomenon was also a video game character (Grand Theft Auto IV), a limited-edition teddy bear, and an obsessive cat lover (the fluffy white Choupette has millions of fans and dollars in her own right).
Obviously, Lagerfeld was so much more than a designer. He was a revolutionary. Forward-thinking and fearless, Lagerfeld had an uncanny Midas touch to every fashion house in which he worked. Many celebrate him for famously rescuing the House of Chanel from near oblivion. Regarding Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel, he said, “My job is not to do what she did, but what she would have done”. He acknowledged that Chanel herself would have disliked many of the developments made in her fashion house but would see that this was what had to be done in order to revive it. “Because fashion is about today. You can take an idea from the past, but, if you do it the way it was, no one wants it’, said the man who made Chanel into a $9.6 billion company.
Every single person in the fashion world would have been touched and influenced by Karl Lagerfeld in some way. Industry figureheads have paid their tributes, movingly celebrating their relationships with the fashion King. Fellow designer Vivienne Westwood cinched the devastating scale of loss in Lagerfeld’s death:
“It’s a real blow – it makes you realise that the end must come. We’re so sorry that this colossus of a human being has gone. Somebody who always spoke his mind. He had a great sense of humour and self-irony and incredible dedication to the craft of making clothes”.
Supermodel Cara Delevigne said, “He is a visionary, a genius, but more than that…a dear friend”, while Dior Perfumer François Demachy put it concisely but poignantly: “With his loss, a page has turned”.
The eternally suited-up man who seemed inseparable from sunglasses and fingerless gloves was, and will continue to be, loved for more than just fashion. He charmed the world with his self-mockery, sexy intelligence, and wickedly funny quips. “Normally, I don’t recommend me for wedding dresses – they all get divorced”, was one of the things he said. “I’m physically allergic to flip-flops” was another one.
The world has lost a rare force. It is a huge credit to him that we can enjoy fashion as something based on attitude and stories rather than physical garments. In an industry where brands, styles, and people are constantly having to play a game of musical chairs for relevance, Lagerfeld controlled the music. How does one spend an immense six decades in the fashion industry and remain so vividly influential and adored right to the very end? The secret went with Karl Lagerfeld. It is devastating to have to say goodbye to this inimitable and era-defining designer. His shoes will continue to be worn, but they’ll be impossible to fill.
[Hero image credit: Chanel. Feature image credit: AFP.]