The Many Muses of Karl Lagerfeld


Ahead of this year’s Met Gala, the fashion industry is looking back at Karl Lagerfeld and his unparalleled impact on fashion history. Lagerfeld was a complicated man, one who cannot be easily defined. We can attempt to do so through the clothes he created, the photos he took, the quotes for which he became known (many of which are controversial), but that somehow still leaves an incomplete picture. The social creature that Lagerfeld was, it is also important to consider the company he kept. During his time in the fashion industry, from his first job working under Pierre Balmain to his last days at Chanel, Lagerfeld got close with models, editors, and other designers, allowing them to influence his creations. Not all of these relationships were built to last—Lagerfeld was an infamously petty character and often threw away companions like old dish towels—but that doesn’t diminish the effect they had on the designer. From his first exclusive Chanel model, Inès de la Fressange, to the cat he dotted on like a daughter, we’re looking back at the history of Lagerfeld’s muses. Who knows? Maybe we will see a few of them honor the designer at the Met Gala on Monday night.

Anna Piaggi

Piaggi and Lagerfeld in 1979.

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Anna Piaggi, an Italian fashion editor, was a flamboyant woman known for her unique style, which often mixed vintage with contemporary fashion. It was her aesthetic, as well as her deep knowledge of fashion history that initially drew Lagerfeld to Piaggi, and the two became very close friends in the 1970s. Lagerfeld used to sketch the editor in a variety of different looks, which were compiled into the book, Karl Lagerfeld: Journal de Mode, in 1986.

“In dressing herself, she is creating an image,” Lagerfeld said of his friend in Journal de Mode. “An article of clothing she selects, and her way of wearing it, creates an overall mood. She is a great performer and yet she is also the author of the play.”

Notably, she’s one of the few longtime fixtures in Lagerfeld’s life who never found herself on the outs.

Inès de la Fressange

Lagerfeld and De la Fressange in 1986.

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Inés de la Fressange, an aristocratic French model, originally met Lagerfeld during his days at Chloé, when she was working for the brand. Their relationship took a major step, however, in 1983, when De la Fressange was 25 and considering a career change, and Lagerfeld was just getting started at Chanel. According to William’s Middleton’s biography on Lagerfeld, Paradise Now, De la Fressange was in New York, discussing her options with an agent when she ran into Lagerfeld and told him about her plan to get into an industrial concern. When Lagerfeld left the conversation with De la Fressange, he made up his mind to make her the face of Chanel. “He thought that Chanel had to be embodied by a woman,” De la Fressange said in a 2020 interview. “It had to have a face...He thought it was important for the brand to show that a 25-year-old girl could be dressed in Chanel.”

“I signed an insane contract,” the model later recalled. “It was a contract of total exclusivity. I was no longer allowed to model for anyone else. I only worked for Chanel and that’s what I wanted.”

In Suzy Menkes’ 1986 Vogue story, “Chanel’s Toy Boy,” Lagerfeld spoke of De la Fressange, saying, “I would not do it without Inés de la Fressange. I ask her everything. She tells me what she wants to wear and I design it.”

De la Fressange walked in Lagerfeld’s very first show for the brand, as well as every one that followed for many years. Some began calling her the star of the house, a distinction she believed began to bother Lagerfeld. Their relationship eventually soured in 1989, when De la Fressange was asked to represent France as the new Marianne—the female symbol of the country since 1792— in honor of the French Revolution’s Bicentennial. De la Fressange was honored, but Lagerfeld called the whole thing, “boring, bourgeois and provincial.” For that summer’s haute couture collection, Lagerfeld used De la Fressange sparingly and an argument between the two led De la Fressange to hire a lawyer to extract her from her contract with the house.

In 1991, De la Fressange started her own eponymous brand, and she and Lagerfeld slowly got back in touch, conversing through letters and eventually repairing their relationship. She returned to the Chanel runway for the spring/summer 2011 show when she was 53.

Then, in October 2018, following the house’s spring/summer 2019 show, De la Fressange visited an ailing Lagerfeld backstage. “He had never been very physical, or tender, but he took my hand and held onto it,” she recalled to Middleton. “It was impossible to leave, so I stayed there with him, for more than an hour or two hours...there were all of these people who came, celebrities who had known him for like five minutes. And I realized later that I was someone who understands where he came from, what he was talking about...Everyone admired him, thought he was brilliant and funny, but I felt like I was the only one who actually had some tenderness for him.” That was the last time De la Fressange saw Lagerfeld before he passed just four months later.

Claudia Schiffer

Lagerfeld and Schiffer at the Chanel fall/winer 1991/92 haute couture show.

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Months after his falling out with De la Fressange, Lagerfeld stumbled upon the October 1989 cover of British Vogue, which featured a nineteen-year-old Claudia Schiffer. “Very shortly afterward, I received a call from Karl Lagerfeld, asking me to meet him at Chanel’s headquarters on the rue Cambon,” she recalled to British Vogue in 2020. “That’s when my career for Chanel began.”

Lagerfeld immediately put Schiffer in his spring/summer 1990 campaign and placed her on the runway for the season’s haute couture collection, her first-ever runway appearance. “Some people said that she didn’t know how to walk but that was irrelevant,” Lagerfeld later said of Schiffer’s runway debut. “When you have her face and her charisma, it doesn’t matter how you walk—you can always be taught.”

The two would go on to work together for years, bonding over the German language. Schiffer learned to perfect her walk and would star in many Chanel shows as well as sixteen Chanel campaigns, more than any other model. “Karl was my magic dust,” Schiffer wrote on Instagram following the designer’s passing. “He transformed me from a shy German girl into a supermodel.”

Of course, like any of Lagerfeld’s relationships, this one had its ups and downs. When Schiffer wouldn’t travel to Paris in January 1991 due to the Gulf War, Lagerfeld was not pleased. “There is no excuse for her stupidity like that,” he told Los Angeles Times Magazine at the time. “All the other models came. It’s a shame because she was a girl I liked very much.” Luckily, the two were able to move past it and enjoy a close relationship for years to come.

Kimora Lee Simmons

Kimora Lee Simmons (then Lee Perkins) was discovered by Lagerfeld when she was just thirteen years old at a modeling competition in Paris. “Karl transformed me. He made me who I am today,” the model told Teen Vogue following the designer’s death in 2019. “As a young teenager he pulled me out of a small town in the Midwest and gave me wings to fly. Every other casting agent told me I was ugly and that I didn’t have what it took to succeed in modeling. Karl saw things in a radically different way than other designers who weren’t willing to risk putting a multi-ethnic girl on the Parisian runway.”

Lagerfeld went on to feature Lee Simmons in many collections and even had her close out the 1989 haute couture show as the youngest-ever Chanel bride. Nine years later, he designed her actual wedding dress when she married Russell Simmons.

Victoire de Castellane

De Castellane and Lagerfeld at De Castellane’s birthday party in 1992.

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The niece of Lagerfeld’s longtime friend and right-hand man in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Gilles Dufour, Victoire de Castellane joined the Chanel team as an assistant when she was 24 years old and Lagerfeld was just starting out at the house. “I was a little assistant,” she told the New York Times in 1987. “I cut fabrics, brought coffee.” Immediately, Lagerfeld was drawn to De Castellane’s bold aesthetic and personality, often getting inspiration for collections from De Castellan’s own personal style. “She follows the rules I like best in life,” Lagerfeld said. “Don't compare. Don't compete. You look at her. You get the message.”

De Castellane quickly moved on from her assistant position to the head of the house’s costume jewelry division. After 14 years there, she left Chanel in 1998 to take on the role as the creative director of Dior’s jewelry department, where she remains to this day.

Naomi Campbell

Lagerfeld and Campbell in 1996.

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Like many models, Naomi Campbell credits Lagerfeld with helping kickstart her career. In a now-removed tribute to the designer on Instagram, the model wrote, “Too many memories to write...Thank you for taking the chance on 16 year old girl from South London and opening my eyes.”

At the first show following his death, Campbell spoke more about her relationship with the designer. “He said so many things that were so blatantly honest and true. He didn’t mince words, as you know,” she told WWD. “[He was] always witty, always upbeat. He had a great memory and we always reminisced. He said I had a great memory, I said he had a great memory.”

For the May 2023 Vogue cover story honoring Lagerfeld ahead of the Met Gala, Campbell was given the distinction of holding his beloved cat, Choupette, in the editorial.

Linda Evangelista

Evangelista and Lagerfeld in 1991.

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When Schiffer didn’t fly in for the 1991 Chanel show, Lagerfeld wasted no time, and had another model at the ready. “The most famous of all—Linda Evangelista—was there,” the designer told Los Angeles Times Magazine, implying he replaced Schiffer with a newly blonde Evangelista. At that point, Lagerfeld and Evangelista had been working together for years, though, so even when Schiffer returned to the designer’s good graces, Evangelista still remained close with him. “There is not another model in the world as professional as she is,” he allegedly once said.

Evangelista would go on to work with Lagerfeld for years, starring in multiple Chanel campaigns, and posing for the designer when he shot her and Choupette for the July 2013 cover of Vogue Germany. She also has the distinction of being a Chanel bride, having closed the brand’s haute couture show for the fall/winter 2003 collection.

Stella Tennant

Lagerfeld and Tennant in 1996.

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Another model who would sign an exclusive contract with Chanel was Stella Tennant, who met Lagerfeld in 1993 when her agent sent her to meet with dozens of designers across Paris. “I had a nose ring—he was probably quite interested in that,” she told Middleton. An English aristocrat, Tennant was the granddaughter of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, but she had no interest in pushing her title around, something that Lagerfeld appreciated. “She’s not glued to her background. That’s why she’s great—she can be in the Gap or Chanel” he said.

In 1996, Lagerfeld signed Tennant and the two would go on to work together for over 25 years. They became great friends, and Lagerfeld got close to Tennant’s husband and children during that time as well. “She is utterly modern and of the moment,” the designer told Catherine Busuttil in 1996. “Yet she has an elegance and a style that is timeless, a little like Mademoiselle Chanel.”

When Lagerfeld decided to hold the 2012 Métiers d’Art show in Scotland, Tennant was the obvious choice to help pull it off, as the model was raised in the Scottish Highlands. She helped the Chanel team prepare for the show, accompanying the house’s fabric director Kim Young-Seong on a research trip. Of course, when it came time for the show, Tennant opened it in a long dark tartan coat, coming out again at the end to join Lagerfeld as he took his final bow.

Kristen McMenamy

Lagerfeld walking McMenamy down the aisle at her wedding to Miles Aldridge in 1997.

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Like many models, Lagerfeld helped Kristen McMenamy break into the world of fashion, casting her in one her first campaigns when she was just getting started. According to British Vogue, the designer called McMenamy “the new face of beauty,” and began putting her in various campaigns and shows.

In September 1996, Middleton was working with photographer Miles Aldridge on a W story previewing the upcoming ready-to-wear collections for the magazine. For Lagerfeld’s portion, Aldridge shot Lagerfeld in a Volvo alongside McMenamy, who was having quite the moment. Aldridge and McMenamy hit it off and from there, sparked a romance. According to Middleton, McMenamy would say that as a couple, she and Aldridge “began in the back seat of Karl’s car,” a comment that apparently “delighted the designer.” When McMenamy and Aldridge tied the knot a year later, she wore a Chanel gown designed by Lagerfeld as the designer walked the model down the aisle. “It’s not easy being the father of the bride,” Lagerfeld told Middleton.

Vanessa Paradis

Lagerfeld and Paradis at the Chanel fall/winter 2003/04 haute couture show.

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Lagerfeld and Vanessa Paradis got close in the early ‘90s when the actress and singer began modeling for Chanel. “It’s pretty good to be baptized by Chanel and to stay with them,” she said of entering the fashion world through the house. In 1991, Chanel named her the face of the Coco fragrance, and Paradis went on to front multiple campaigns for the brand, for various handbags, lipsticks, and more. In 2006, Paradis introduced the designer to her daughter, Lily-Rose Depp, and another important relationship formed.

Diane Kruger

Lagerfeld and Kruger at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007.

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Diane Kruger first met Lagerfeld when she was just a 16-year-old model in Paris, invited to the designer’s apartment along with a group of up-and-coming models. “I was very young and very intimidated and I remember from the get-go that he was extremely personable, that he was very, very nice to me,” Kruger said to Middleton, recalling her first interaction with the designer. The two Germans bonded over their shared language, and soon Kruger was working on various Chanel campaigns, becoming one of the faces of the Allure fragrance in 1995.

In the early 2000s, Kruger had just begun going to acting school in Paris when she ran into Lagerfeld. He showed interest in her career transition, so when she got her big break in the 2004 film Troy, she called up Chanel and asked to borrow a dress for the Cannes Film Festival premiere. She was told Lagerfeld wanted to design a haute couture gown for her, and she visited the rue Cambon where he designed the piece in front of the actress, drawing a sketch of the light blue, feathered-covered chiffon gown she ended up wearing on the red carpet. “It was a confection,” she said. “It was truly, at the time, the dress of my dreams. I was so green and young and Karl made me feel like a princess.”

The two remained close, and Kruger would go to Lagerfeld many times throughout the years for professional advice. “I didn't see him every day...but we saw one another enough, and I always knew that he was someone who respected me, who thought I could do good, who believed in me,” she told Middleton. In 2007, when Kruger returned to Cannes as the mistress of ceremonies for the Festival’s closing ceremony, she asked Lagerfeld to join her as her date. “He was so giddy—like a little kid,” she recalled.

“I was very stressed out because I had to host,” Kruger said. “I went kind of quiet because I was trying to concentrate. And he just grabbed my hand, held it, and said, in German, ‘Look at how far you’ve come—I’m so proud of you.’ He said it in such a sweet manner—obviously he was trying to encourage me. And then he said, ‘And look at us: two little nobodies from Germany and here going to the Cannes Film Festival—isn’t it amazing?’”

Devon Aoki

Aoki and Lagerfeld at the Chanel autumn winter 2000/01 show.


Devon Aoki is one of the many models who was honored with the distinction of being named a Chanel bride, closing out many couture shows beginning in 1999. Lagerfeld’s embrace of the model proved a move toward diversity on runways. “I don't fit the status quo,” she told the Independent in 1999. “I suppose that's a good thing. Not everyone's 5ft 10in and stick thin. There's more diversity now. It's OK to be shorter and look sort of different."

Baptiste Giabiconi

Giabiconi and Lagerfeld in 2009.

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Chanel being predominately a women’s brand, it makes sense that the large majority of Lagerfeld’s muses were women. One exception to that, however, was Baptiste Giabiconi. In 2009, Giabiconi began his career with Chanel when he closed out the spring/summer 2010 presentation alongside models Freja Beha Erichsen and Lara Stone. He went on to appear in many campaigns for both Chanel and Lagerfeld’s eponymous brand, and Lagerfeld shot the model for multiple advertisements, including a 2010 Coca Cola Light campaign alongside Coco Rocha.

Giabiconi worked closely with Lagerfeld for many years, and there was some speculation as to whether the two ever moved past a platonic relationship into something more romantic. “We all figured that he had a crush on Baptiste. That’s for sure,” Carine Roitfeld said in the BBC documentary The Mysterious Mr. Lagerfeld. That being said, the stylist and editor claimed she never saw anything sexual going on between the two, and in his 2020 book, Karl et moi, Giabiconi insisted the relationship resembled that of father and son. In the BBC doc, the model even asserted that Lagerfeld wanted to make that relationship official. “At one point, we had expressed a desire to one day maybe for Karl to adopt me,” he said. “That’s what he wanted.” According to Giabiconi, Lagerfeld gifted the model custom Louis Vuitton luggage emblazoned with the initials BLG, for Baptiste Lagerfeld Giabiconi.


Choupette and Lagerfeld.


In 2011, Giabiconi came into the possession of a cream Birman cat with icy blue eyes named Choupette. Over Christmas of that year, the model asked Lagerfeld to take care of his new pet for a bit. Lagerfeld had never been very partial to pets of any kind, but he quickly took to Choupette, and when Giabiconi returned from his trip, the designer let him know that he would be keeping the cat for himself.

Françoise Caçote, who had started as a maid for Lagerfeld a few years prior to Choupette’s arrival explained the connection between Lagerfeld and the cat to Middleton. “I didn’t think he was capable of being attached like that but then I immediately understood why,” she said. “He lived alone and he quickly became used to seeing this bundle of fur around the house.” Caçote, as well, formed a nice relationship with Choupette and became the cat’s caretaker. Upon Lagerfeld’s death, she was given custody of the beloved pet.

Soon, Choupette and Caçote began traveling around the world with Lagerfeld, and Choupette was given full reign of the private jet while on trips. She also took a liking to the Mercer Hotel in New York and the Hassler Hotel in Rome. “One time, though, we stayed in a hotel in Rome owned by the Fendis and we saw right away that Choupette was not happy,” Caçote said.

It wasn’t long before Choupette’s face became almost recognizable as Lagerfeld’s, as the designer began to place her in various shoots for editorials, as well as Chanel campaigns. She has been on the cover of multiple magazines, including German Vogue and Brazilian Vogue, in the arms of Evangelista and Gisele Bündchen, respectively. These days, Choupette still lives the high life and was most recently featured in the Vogue cover story honoring Lagerfeld, held in the arms of Campbell.

Cara Delevingne

Delevingne and Lagerfeld at the Chanel fall/winter 2014/15 show.

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Cara Delevingne first met Lagerfeld when she was 20, walking in the Chanel spring 2012 haute couture show, her first for the brand. “The first time I met him, I was immediately blown away by his kindness and generosity,” she told Grazia. Of course, Delevingne was nervous ahead of the show—she had just started walking runways the season before—but Lagerfeld quickly calmed her nerves. “He walked straight up to me and told me ‘you are meant to be here,’” she recalled. “Having that reminder and reassurance from him meant everything and I think changed my life in ways I’m still unable to comprehend.”

From there, a friendship grew, and Lagerfeld spoke very highly of the model, calling her “the modern It girl” during an interview with Elle in 2013. “Cara is different. She's full of life, full of pep. I like girls to be wild but at the same time beautifully brought up and very funny.”

Following his death in 2019, Delevingne took to Instagram to pay her respects. “He changed my life, he believed in me when so many others didn’t including myself,” she wrote. “He is a visionary, a genius but more than that...a dear friend.”

In September 2022, the Karl Lagerfeld brand debuted a collaboration with the model, called The Cara Loves Karl collection. “More than simple colleagues, Karl and Cara had an incredibly special bond that went far beyond the bounds of the muse-and-artist relationship—one based on mutual love and respect, and of course the charismatic joie de vivre they both shared,” the press release read.

Kristen Stewart

Lagerfeld and Stewart at the Chanel spring/summer 2015 haute couture show.

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These days, Kristen Stewart is one of Chanel’s biggest faces, attending every event in designs from Virginie Viard. But her relationship with the brand began back in 2013, when Lagerfeld named her an ambassador.

“Karl has always, from the very beginning, made me feel like being myself was the right thing to do. And in [the fashion] world, that is a rarity,” the actress told V Magazine in 2017.

Stewart went on to work with Lagerfeld on multiple occasions, starring in campaigns and short films shot by the designer. In 2019, after he passed away, Stewart reflected on Lagerfeld during an interview with Vanity Fair.

“It’s funny how he presents—so austere and so scary. He wasn’t, though,” she said. “He was incredibly inviting—insanely, shockingly unpretentious. He liked what he liked because he liked it. He was a fancy motherfucker, but it was true to him...He was always touching you while speaking to you. He never talked at you—if he was talking to you, he was usually holding your hand.”

Hudson Kroenig

Lagerfeld and Kroenig at the Chanel cruise 2017 show.


Hudson Kroenig, now 15, is the son of Brad Kroenig, another one of Lagerfeld’s favorite male models. Lagerfeld was very instrumental in uplifting Brad’s career so, when he had his first son in 2008, he asked the designer to be his godfather, an honor Lagerfeld took very seriously.

Kroenig made his first appearance on a Chanel runway for the spring 2011 show, holding hands with his father as they walked in matching outfits. That was just the beginning for Kroenig, however, and for years he appeared on Chanel runways, sometimes closing the show with Lagerfeld, sometimes walking on his own or with other models. He has also been featured in a handful of editorials for the brand, as well as one of Lagerfeld’s many books, Little Black Jacket.

Lily-Rose Depp

Depp and Lagerfeld closing out the Chanel spring/summer 2017.

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Lagerfeld first met Lily-Rose Depp, the daughter of Paradis and Johnny Depp, in 2006 when she was only seven years old and her mother had a fitting with the designer. “Even at that age, I was aware that he was a genius, that he had such a presence, but I was taken back by how warm and kind and welcoming he was,” she told Middleton. The two bonded over their cats (Depp has a Persian) and in 2015, he named her a global ambassador of the house when she was just 16, before making her the face of the Chanel No. 5 L'Eau fragrance a year later.

“There are people in [the Chanel] team who have watched me grow up,” Depp told British Vogue in 2021. “I’m very lucky to have been acquainted with this brand starting at such a young age.” In that same interview, she revealed that her favorite memory with the house was closing the spring/summer 2017 alongside Lagerfeld as that season’s Chanel bride.