Karl Lagerfeld: The Death of An Artist

Karl Lagerfeld

The death of Karl Lagerfeld marked the end of an era for three big fashion houses in the world: Chanel, Fendi and his own eponymous, Karl Lagerfeld.  Karl Otto Lagerfeld was more than an artist, he was a visionary. He redefined modern fashion and revolutionized luxury products.

Born around 1933 of German descent, he showed great interest in art and fashion from a young age. He was inspired by French and Italian artists and quickly learnt French and moved to Paris to complete his schooling, majoring in drawing and history.  In 1967, he started gaining more popularity when he reinvented the use of animal fur whilst working at Fendi. Fur was a status symbol used in formal attire and was mostly the by-product of animals such as fox and mink. When Karl Lagerfeld was hired by Fendi, he introduced a surprisingly unconventional means of fur. He wanted fur to be used in everyday wear and chose to use animals such as rabbits and squirrels; making fur more accessible and popular.  In 1980, he was hired by the then-dying company Chanel to revamp the brand. His modern chic style drove Chanel’s sale to reach an all-time high of $10bn in 2017. He went on to become the creative directors of both Fendi and Chanel and launched his own clothing line in 1984 which he named after himself and later sold to Tommy Hilfiger. All three brands have reached great success and recognition in the fashion world.

This man lived, ate and breathed fashion. He was often described as a chameleon – designing up to 12 fashion shows every year and effortlessly shifting designs from the delicate femininity of Chanel to Fendi’s strong, bold silhouettes and Lagerfeld’s sober styles. He designed Fendi’s iconic double-F logo in 1981 and was also the creator behind Chanel’s famous ‘CC-looped’ monogram. In 1999, Lagerfeld opened the 7L bookstore in Paris because of his love of reading. He was also a talented caricaturist published in German newspapers, and famously said “I am like a caricature of myself, and I like that. It is like a mask. And for me the Carnival of Venice lasts all year long.”

“I have nothing to say. I’m actually trying to make sure that I won’t be remembered.”

Karl Lagerfeld was notorious for the things he said. Always contradicting himself, and sometimes apologizing for his offensive words. Despite adoring the spotlight, he liked to keep a mysterious aura around him. When and where was he born? What did his parents do? Why did he carry the fan? Was he really candid? And, of course, how did he die? The sudden death of Karl Lagerfeld on the 19th of February 2019, left the entire fashion world in shock. He was admitted to the American Hospital of Paris on Monday night and died the next day from pancreatic cancer. Rumors started flying a few months prior about some health issues Lagerfeld might be facing. But until his death, he shared the details of his illness with very few people.

The German designer was known for his trademark look: white hair, always pulled back into a neat ponytail, black sunglasses and starched four-inch high collar.  He believed that a trash can was the most important equipment in the house and loved the look of a blank piece of paper. Lagerfeld ruthlessly and periodically got rid of art, objects, things and even people. He was unscrupulous in discarding his past creations and designs, preaching the importance of the present, yet had an undeniable passion for art and fashion history – represented in his designs and creations. He lost more than 90 pounds in one year to fit into Dior suits. He claimed he was asexual. He fat shamed Adele, and didn’t like models to be more than a UK size 4 or 6. He was labelled an Islamophobe after using the Quran verses in his designs. In one of his recent interviews, with French magazine Numero, he said that he was “fed up” with the #MeToo movement and also said, “If you don’t want your pants pulled about, don’t become a model! Join a nunnery, there’ll always be a place for you in the convent.”

He would tactfully brush of these blatantly insensitive words by claiming, “Everything I say is a joke, I am a joke myself.” Though Lagerfeld declared that he did not want to be remembered, he worked very hard to stay relevant by evolving with the times, saying ludicrous things and dressing in a particular manner. He has requested to be cremated and his ashes be added to that of his mother and late partner, Jacques de Bascher, kept in a “secret” place. He also requested the ashes of his cat, Choupette, be added to his ashes after the cat’s death. Until then, his cat will continue leading a luxurious life by inheriting some of Lagerfeld’s $300 million inheritance.

Karl Lagerfeld was a brilliant bully. He revolutionized the fashion industry and was the creative genius behind three big fashion brands along with countless collaborations. Despite numerous interviews and allowing the public a glimpse into his life – his apartments, his fashion show fittings, his writings, his sculptures, his art, his photography, he will remain an enigma, revered and reviled by many.


Vedangana Raj