Lagerfeld’s almost familial sense of loyalty is well known—lately, he’s begun to refer to certain boys around him, including the model Brad Kroenig and Kroenig’s 4-year-old son, Hudson, as his “adoptive sons.” But the latest object of his affections is undoubtedly Choupette. Indeed, it was only after Lagerfeld showed me iPhone photos of the kitten next to him on a desk while he was sketching, and waiting for him on his bed, and at the edge of the tub at bath time, and wrapped in the antique linens Lagerfeld loves so much, and playing on an iPad with her paw that I realized that those who still think of Lagerfeld as Louis XIV have clearly understood nothing. When he sends text messages to Virginie Viard—his studio director and collaborator since 1987—he pretends the kitten is speaking for him. “He signs them, Your Choupette,” Viard said, noting that along with the text comes a photo of the blue-eyed feline. Then she worried: “He might not like that I’m saying this.” After all, the man she is describing seems to be a long way off from Lagerfeld’s intimidating public persona.
Viard—whom the ladies of Lachaume, Lagerfeld’s florist, telephone quietly for help deciphering the handwritten notes accompanying the bouquets that the couturier regularly sends out—is one of the only women around Lagerfeld to use the familiar French tu with him. She’s also one of the only ones to invoke the death of Jacques de Bascher—the man some call the love of Lagerfeld’s life—and his 1989 funeral, which Lagerfeld asked her to attend. “I saw then that I was among those who mattered to him,” she told me. Viard is eminently discreet, the consummate professional—I’ve seen her take Lagerfeld’s hand during fittings in a manner that is at once tender and authoritative, particularly when the clock is ticking and there are technical details to address. “So many people are afraid of him, and that’s the worst thing,” Harlech confided. “It shuts the door immediately. What he likes is that one be engaged in conversation—and more than anything, that one be informed.”
Inès de la Fressange, who was already Lagerfeld’s muse when he arrived at Chanel in 1983, remembers that “once or twice, he told me I’d done my hair like his mother, who lived on the Left Bank and wore Rykiel.” Their first meeting took place while Lagerfeld was at Chloé and de la Fressange had been working for the biggest names in fashion—“forty-two shows in one season, among them Mugler, Montana, and Gaultier,” she recalled. Though she was regularly sent to Chloé by her agent, something about it never worked; she never even got to meet Lagerfeld. One day, however, on an appointment at the house, she ran into him. “He said to me, ‘Ah, you finally come to see me! I thought you worked only for Mugler!’ ” de la Fressange said. “He was pretending to be misinformed.” She walked his runway, and they became inseparable. Lagerfeld so adored this tall, spirited French girl that he took her everywhere.