Today was Karl’s last show for CHANEL.
The king of fashion is gone. The genius who designed for CHANEL since 1982, FENDI since 1965, and his eponymous collection since 1984, died on February 19th. He was 85.
Karl Lagerfeld, who considered himself European (his father was Swiss, but Karl was born in Germany and lived in France), was the world’s most famous and prolific designer of our time. He invented his caricature look with his sunglasses, powdered ponytail, black jeans, fingerless gloves, black fitted jacket, and starched collars. He attributed his success to never being satisfied and never looking back.
Though he grew up wanting to be a cartoonist or illustrator, Karl’s career path started in 1954 when he entered the International Wool Secretariat fashion competition and won the coat category. It changed the world for Karl, who didn’t know he could make a living in fashion.
He apprenticed under Pierre Balmain for three years until he left for Jean Patou, where he stayed for five. He then freelanced for Krizia, Ballantyne, Charles Jourdan, Valentino, and Chloé, where he remained for over ten years. His many decades-long stints at CHANEL and FENDI would solidify his position as fashion’s most enduring designer.
He approached his work and dictatorial design process philosophically. He was decisive and made no excuses for being unwaveringly resolute in his process. Karl would often say, “Every decision is a final refusal,” an axiom he would, perhaps mistakenly, attribute to Baruch Spinoza.
Karl also enjoyed retelling the story of Lady Mendle, the interior designer who authored The House of Good Taste. The story goes that when presenting ideas to Henry Clay Frick, she offered only one design concept. When Frick inquired about a second, she said, “No second options.” The notion that if you are hiring the best to design for you and you trust their judgment implicitly, therefore, why, in God’s divine plan, would there be a need for a second option? For Karl, this philosophy was embraced by both FENDI and CHANEL.
Karl worked tirelessly on 14 collections per year and loved his position, where he was dedicated to design and design only. The other duties were handed off to experts whom he appreciated greatly, and he especially didn’t like to speak about marketing. “We aren’t selling cars,” Karl once said. He also didn’t allow his customers to dictate his design. “I don’t think about consumers. Don’t flatter other people’s taste.” He appreciated the support that the brands gave to his design; regardless of his demands, they bent to his whims. Take, for example, the elaborate and immensely costly transformations of the Grand Palais for his Chanel fashion shows.
Karl lived alone in his Left Bank apartment, save for a Birman cat named Choupette—known famously for her diamond necklaces, a personal maid, her travels on private jets, and her Instagram account.
Today, as the models held back tears on their last walk in a Karl Lagerfeld-for-CHANEL fashion show, the sad reality set in that Karl wouldn’t be coming out to take a final bow.
Farewell, Mr. Lagerfeld, may you rest in peace.