Fashion & Beauty

Remembering Karl Lagerfeld, a Problematic Genius

The good, the great—and the controversial

Karl Lagerfeld during his first year at Chanel

Karl Lagerfeld during his first year at Chanel (Photo: Getty)

The fashion world and beyond are mourning the huge loss of a sartorial legend this week.

German-born couturier Karl Lagerfeld passed away at the age of 85 on the morning of Tuesday, February 19, after being rushed to a hospital just outside of Paris the night before. At present, the exact cause of death is unknown; however, according to sources close to the designer, Mr. Lagerfeld had been ill for several weeks, which could very well explain why he was absent for the past two Chanel haute couture shows in Paris last month.

Often referred to as “Kaiser Karl,” “Fashion Meister” and, simply, a “genius,” the creative force was undoubtedly the most prolific designer of his time. He managed to stay on top of the haute-couture industry for well over half a century, and at an age almost no other designer knew with such to-the-day precision. Yep, Mr. Lagerfeld never stopped creating.

Best known for his association with Chanel, Lagerfeld presided over the heritage fashion house for more than three decades after taking over in 1983. His unheard-of feat in fashion also saw the craftsman simultaneously helming creative direction for LVMH’s Fendi since 1965, as well as his eponymous fashion label.

“With the passing of Karl Lagerfeld we have lost a creative genius who helped to make Paris the fashion capital of the world and Fendi one of the most innovative Italian houses. We owe him a great deal: his taste and talent were the most exceptional I have ever known,” Bernard Arnault, the head of LVMH, said in a statement. “Fashion and culture has lost a great inspiration.”

Known to draw his own designs by hand, the fashion polyglot also wore many hats outside of a couturier. In addition to his roles at Chanel, Fendi and his namesake brand, the icon was an accomplished photographer and an author. What’s more, the rare sartorial phenomenon even moonlighted as a cartoonist, drawing political cartoons and caricatures for Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

At the same time, though, Lagerfeld’s genius was often overshadowed by his offensive foot-in-mouth comments, stirring up multiple controversies, especially over the last few years. Among other things, he infamously described Adele as “a little too fat” back in 2012; dared to call Meryl Streep “cheap” leading up to the 2017 Oscars; and, that same year, sparked outrage when he decided to bring up the Holocaust when criticizing Germany’s open-door migration policies.

Now, as we reflect back and celebrate his legendary 50-year career, which saw him transform a once flagging brand into one of the most powerful luxury houses, we simply can’t sweep his degrading comments under the rug. We can—and should—remember him as a whole, flawed human.

Along with his sharp tongue, his endless contributions to fashion (along with his snow-white ponytail, razor-thin suits, fingerless gloves and dark glasses) will remain ingrained in our collective memory. As The New York Times style reporter Matthew Schneier put it so perfectly in his tweet, “People throw around ‘end of an era’ pretty freely these days, but this one truly merits it.”

Here, we remember some of our favourite Karl Lagerfeld moments.

He had the best muses—including his cat, Choupette

Behind the scenes at Chanel’s spring ready-to-wear show on October 1, 1995. (Photo: Getty)

From ’90s supes like Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista to models-of-the-moment Kaia Gerber and Lily-Rose Depp, the Chanel boss has paired up with some of the most recognized runway talent throughout the decades to help him capture whatever beauty, mood or moment he wished to evoke with his collections. He was also inspired by women in Hollywood, dressing A-list celebs like Rhianna, Kristen Stewart and Keira Knightley, who’s been a face of Chanel for more than 10 years. And we can’t forget that Largerfeld brought one white-haired Birman feline into the spotlight: his Insta-famous pet, Choupette, who he loved, like, SO MUCH.

His elaborate runway sets couldn’t be beat

The designer’s Paris runway shows were always the highlight of fashion month. He created over-the-tops sets for his sartorial creations, transforming venues like the lofty interiors of Paris’s Grand Palais, into everything from an airport terminal for his spring 2016 collection to a space station for fall 2017.

ARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 04: Designer Karl Lagerfeld walks the runway during the Chanel show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2017 on October 4, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

(Photo: Getty)

He birthed H&M’s high/low designer collaborations

Mr. Lagerfeld changed the game when he teamed up with H&M back in 2004 to create cut-price versions of his clothes. That designer-meets-high-street move has been copied by many other creators since, including Moschino and Stella McCartney, and is still going strong well over a decade later.

He was the creator of Fendi’s signature logo

The fashion king reportedly designed the Italian house’s ubiquitous FF logo in less than five seconds when he joined the brand back in 1965. The iconic marking, which originally stood for “Fun Furs,” was meant to highlight Fendi’s creativity and innovation, and has gone through tons of variations over the years.


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