The world-famous German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld is dead. This was announced by the French fashion house Chanel and confirmed the reports of several French media outlets. He died Tuesday morning in a hospital in Paris. The 85-year-old was one of the most important fashion designers of the 20th century and shaped the fashion world with his designs over the past 50 years.
It’s a very sad day for the fashion community. Legendary designer and industry figurehead Karl Lagerfeld — most known for his work as longtime creative director of both Chanel and Fendi, as well as his own namesake label — has passed away at the age of 85.
Rumors have persisted for weeks that Lagerfeld is ill. In January, the famous designer did not attend Chanel’s haute couture show for the first time ever. The fashion house then explained Lagerfeld’s absence by him being “tired.” He also did not attend a second show earlier this year. “Mr. Lagerfeld felt exhausted and asked the head of his studio, Virginie Viard, to represent him,” Chanel said in a statement. Fans of the designer were increasingly worried. After all, Lagerfeld had not missed a fashion show by Chanel until then.
Lagerfeld himself recently attempted to stifle the speculations about his state of health. He posted a video on Instagram congratulating his friend and former editor-in-chief of French Vogue Carine Roitfeld on the success of their magazine CR Fashionbook. In the video Lagerfeld, however, seemed frail and exhausted.
As Chanel confirmed this Tuesday morning, Karl Lagerfeld died at the age of 85 years in Paris.
Karl Otto Lagerfeld was born in Hamburg, Germany as the son of condensed milk manufacturer Otto Lagerfeld and his wife Elisabeth. The exact year of birth of the fashion designer was long unclear. Lagerfeld himself always stated that he was born in 1938, later in 1935. When in fact he was born two years earlier, in 1933.
In the mid-fifties Lagerfeld moved to Paris and began his artistic career. There he initially worked as an illustrator. At the age of 16, he won first prize in a competition organized by the International Wool Secretariat in Paris for the design of a coat – the first success of the talented Karl Lagerfeld. Very soon after he worked in Paris at major couture houses such as Balmain, Patou or Chloé. In 1965, he began his work as the chief designer of the Italian fashion house Fendi. In 1983 he worked in the same position for the traditional French brand Chanel.
Lagerfeld’s move to the top of the French fashion house was groundbreaking, especially for Chanel itself. He gave the brand new meaning, after the death of its founder Coco Chanel. The label was at the time was kind of outdated and an outfitter of older Parisian ladies. Lagerfeld created modern reinterpretations, but at the same time remained true to the classics of the brand such as the tweed costumes.
His fashion was elegant, minimalist and innovative. Unforgettable are the small Chanel jacket, the deep back cleavage, his wool coats with a belt buckle on the collar. Lagerfeld has renewed classic forms and created “looks”. He sent the most beautiful models over the catwalks, from Claudia Schiffer to Cara Delevingne.
He transformed his own person into a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk. His signature look with dark sunglasses, his white powdered hair in a ponytail, and extravagant suit with an extremely high collar, everybody knew who he was. However, he was never too serious with his aesthetic; he had fun with it, as he did in all areas of his life. He was an eccentric, larger-than-life character in the fashion world known not only for his designs, but also everything from his clever quotes to his photography and publishing imprint to his storied love for his cat Choupette.
As designers half his age complained about burnout from fashion’s ridiculous pace, Lagerfeld made himself even busier by dabbling in a constant flow of publishing, photography, film and design projects, including a rule-breaking “fast fashion” collaboration with the mass retailer H&M in 2004 that predated the industry obsession with disruption by more than a decade.
As most profiles of Lagerfeld have said, one more thing that drove Lagerfeld was a desire to know everything. He filled his numerous residences, in Paris, Biarritz, and Saint-Tropez and others, with piles of history books and biographies, iPods loaded with various types of music, and museum-worthy collections of artwork and furniture that he would, unceremoniously, dispose of every few years, once a new period or style captured his attention. With his vast memory and a rapid-fire way of working and speaking, he could summon details and themes on command, exploit them ruthlessly in a collection, and then immediately move on to the next thing. He once said he had a “Google mind.”
Virginie Viard, director of Chanel’s design studio and Lagerfeld’s closest collaborator for more than 30 years, will take the creative reins at the company’s fashion business.
“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,” said Chanel CEO Alain Wertheimer in a statement. “Today, not only have I lost a friend, but we have all lost an extraordinary creative mind to whom I gave carte blanche in the early 1980s to reinvent the brand.”
Lagerfeld received many accolades over the years. Nicole Kidman presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of The Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2002, and the British Fashion Council recognized him in 2015 with its Outstanding Achievement Award. He received France’s highest honor, the Legion d’Honneur, from then-President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010. And in 2005, Chanel was the subject of a Costume Institute exhibition that juxtaposed period pieces with Lagerfeld’s creations.
“There is no secret to life,” Lagerfeld once said. “The only secret is work. Get your act together, and also, perhaps, have a decent life. Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Don’t take drugs. All that helps.” He leaves behind an extraordinary legacy as one of the greatest designers of our time, and there are no words to express how much he will be missed.