The rumours had been circling for some time. He had been notably absent from a couple of important events and he hadn’t walked out to give his customary bow at the last Chanel Couture show which took place in January, electing to send out his right hand lady and director of creative studio of the house, Virginie Viard, instead. Even then he probably knew and was quietly paving the way for what was to come - a trait which was very much part of the Lagerfeld way.
Karl Lagerfeld died last Tuesday at the attributed age of 85. I say attributed because much like everything else in Lagerfeld’s life, his real date of birth is an enigma mired in equal parts of mystery and legend. Head of the House of Chanel for over 35 years, Lagerfeld was considered to be one of the last of the old guard who still remembered the Café de Flore in its heyday. His material contribution to fashion was possibly the most vast and prolific in history, with many describing him as more machine than man in the way he churned out designs at the rate that other people change their underwear.
Of course, the second he closed his eyes, another bigger question was being asked and while I’m sure that many must have been salivating at the thought, Chanel steered clear from the latest ‘rockstar’ designers so many other fashion houses are snapping up and stuck with the woman who has been playing supporting actress to Lagerfeld’s leading man for the last few decades. It will be interesting to see what direction she will take the house in as the first female successor since Coco Chanel herself.
I find myself very torn when writing about Lagerfeld: on the one hand, no one can deny Karl’s ability to be able to spot a trend and translate it into his clothing, yet ironically, he was always considered to be less talented than his arch-rival in design and love, Yves Saint Laurent. While Yves was seen as the dreamer, Karl was always seen as the worker who got where he wanted to through sheer persistence. Yves was always seen as the unstable magician but it was Karl who succeeded in pulling rabbit after rabbit out of the hat, season after season.
Lagerfeld’s work ethic was only paralleled by his sharp and cutting wit: he seldom said something that wasn’t abrasively and acerbically funny and while many were unhappy with some of his statements in this politically correct era, it didn’t diminish his brilliance as a creator and visionary. He made us dream beautiful dreams and our world is a little less shiny tonight. Au revoir, Monsieur Lagerfeld.
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