Karl Lagerfeld, by His Muses: Claudia Schiffer, Jerry Hall, Abbey Lee Kershaw, and 22 Top Models Share Their Memories

If you were a top model anytime over the past four decades, then chances are that you have a Karl Lagerfeld story—and a memorable one, at that. Since taking the creative helm at Chanel in 1983 and until his death late last month, Lagerfeld was a major proponent in launching models’ careers, and fostering close relationships with them over the decades. Just about every supermodel has walked in at least one Chanel fashion show, from legends like Vendela and Jerry, to ’90s Supers like Claudia Schiffer and Angela Lindvall, and today’s stars like Joan Smalls and Barbara Palvin. One thing they all have in common? An adoration and admiration for the late designer. As Chanel shows their final collection that Lagerfeld worked on before his passing at Paris Fashion Week on Tuesday, 23 top models share their favorite memories of working with the legend, here.

Jerry Hall
Bertrand Rindoff Petroff

“Karl was very thoughtful. In 1985 when I was pregnant with my son James, he made me three beautiful Chanel couture maternity outfits and sent them to me as a surprise gift. It was so wonderful for me to feel and look so glamorous when I was pregnant and Mick Jagger and I were being photographed every time we stepped out. When I was 52, Karl hired me as a model for his accessories campaign. He took such beautiful photos of me; I loved them. Karl was very generous always.”

Jerry Hall walks the runway during the Chanel Fall-Winter 1985-1986 fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Abbey Lee Kershaw
Kristy Sparow

“The first time I stepped into Karl’s studio, I almost fell over at the books sprawling the walls. I asked him if he had read them all. He said ‘Well of course, darling.’ The last time I saw him, he cupped my hand and kissed my cheek and said ’30 suits you. You’re a woman now.'”

Abbey Lee Kershaw walks the runway during the Chanel Collection Croisiere Show 2011-2012 fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Claudia Schiffer
Bertrand Rindoff Petroff

“Creativity personified, Karl’s support transformed me from a shy German teenager into a supermodel. As intuitive as he was innovative, his advice, wit and inexhaustible energy were infectious and inspiring in equal measure. To his muse, he was my mentor, a profoundly cultured, kind and charismatic man, with an extraordinary mind and an unparalleled vision. I will miss him terribly.”

Claudia Schiffer walks the runway during the Chanel Haute Couture Collection Fall-Winter 1992-1993 fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Angela Lindvall
Thierry Orban

“Karl Lagerfeld was the first person I ever met that was already in art history books, and this was 20 years ago! Karl was a creative genius, and a legendary icon. He was an inventor, a leader, and always on the cutting edge. He never ceased to amaze. I had the opportunity to work with Karl for many years. When he first started shooting, I worked with him on four consecutive Chanel campaigns, and two Fendi campaigns. We got to spend a lot of time together in Paris and Biarritz. Karl was a very generous soul. He was also a walking history book of knowledge. The best scene ever was shooting at Venice Beach in California with him, amongst the backdrop of Los Angeles culture with this incredible fashion icon. He definitely stuck out in the crowd! He will be missed and forever remembered.”

Angela Lindvall walks the runway during the Chanel Fall-Winter 2001-2002 fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Brandi Quinones
Thierry Orban

“My best memories with Karl were just being with him; watching him create, draw, do photography, talking about food, clothes, art, film, watching him design all the collections he worked on every season, watching him work with his team, and how everyone is amazed and excited to see what he will create next. I loved traveling with Karl and being able to be part of his creative vision and ohhh then there was the clothes…. the most amazing clothes.”

Brandi Quinones walks the runway during the Chanel Spring-Summer 1995 Ready to Wear fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Caroline Trentini
Jean Baptiste Lacroix

“Before I was a model, I had already heard the name Chanel and I knew the image of the man with a fan in his hands. I remember when I met him I had butterflies in my stomach because I was so nervous, but little did I know he would make me so comfortable in his presence. I will never forget when we worked together, it didn’t feel like work because everything went so smoothly and fast and after the shoot we spoke about Brazil. He was so curious. Working with him was a huge mark in my career. Now I can tell my kids I worked with a legend.”

Caroline Trentini walks the runway during the Chanel Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2005 fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Jac Jagaciak
Peter White

“Beside being totally terrified to meet him for the first time—for no reason as it turned out—I remember always coming into the room for final show fittings and hearing laughs and seeing smiles all across. I admired his sense of humor. Even in the stressful moments he would manage to say something funny and sarcastic, because he could; that kind of confidence was so needed during fashion month.”

Jac Jagaciak walks the runway during the Chanel Sprin- Summer 2017 fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Joan Smalls
Antonio de Moraes Barros Filho

“I remember being booked for the Chanel campaign for the first time. Karl was shooting it in the South of France and to say I was excited and nervous was an understatement. I had so much to prove and wanted to impress. To this day those images have been the most iconic of my career. I hung from a suspended ladder on top of the ocean and almost slipped—to this day, I don’t know how I pulled it off—but I just remember saying that I was gonna make it one to remember. FYI, I’m not a great swimmer, so you can only imagine how frightened I was. Everyone else was inland nice and safe. Karl was shooting with a super long lens!”

Joan Smalls walks the runway during the Chanel Haute-Couture Spring-Summer 2014 fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Barbara Palvin
Stephane Cardinale – Corbis

“I was 16 when I first met Karl and I was a nervous wreck, though at that very same moment I felt a calmness and knew he saw me for me. In his own way, he made me feel special. I was honored to be chosen to model in his beautiful creations. Our work together will always have a special place in my heart. He’s an irreplaceable, iconic genius. May he Rest In Peace.”

Barbara Palvin walks the runway during the Chanel Cruise 2018-2019 Collection fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Estelle Chen

“I’ve walked a few shows with Karl but never really had a conversation with him apart from quick greetings at fittings and shows. All I can say is that you could feel his strong presence and creative aura whenever you were around him. What he built, his work, his vision, are forever. He will be truly missed.”

Estelle Chen walks the runway during the Chanel Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2016-2017 fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Fran Summers
Peter White

“Karl Lagerfeld has had an incredible impact on me. At my first Chanel fitting I was so nervous I was actually shaking—because the fact is that nearly everybody has heard of Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld, whether they work in fashion or not. At the fitting he was super calm, and the whole process ran like clockwork with its precision, and I have never experienced anything like it. For me, Karl proved that fashion is not just about clothing, but about social commentary and stories, and these stories were showcased through the unique sets and shows.

I had the honor of opening the Fendi show just two days after he passed. When Amanda Harlech told me the outfit I was wearing was based on Karl’s drawing of himself from his very first day at Fendi, I almost cried. Even though I did not have a personal relationship with him like so many of my peers, I was honored to wear something which had so much meaning; a tribute to Karl in such an emotional and powerful show. I really hope I did him justice, because he has contributed so much to fashion and culture, and he can never be replaced.”

Fran Summers walks the runway during the Chanel Spring-Summer 2019 fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Karolina Kurkova
Michel Dufour

“Karl Lagerfeld was a true master in every aspect. What I loved about Karl, with whom I got to work many times over my 20-year career, is he was always very real. He always remembered everyone and everything, names and all, and he was just so curious. He was always up to date with the current pop culture. He was just so multifaceted and talented: he could take pictures, he would design, he could do so many things so well. I always admired him for that—that he was able to step out of his comfort zone and try things, and he always managed to be really amazing at them, too.”

Karolina Kurkova walks the runway during the Chanel Ready-to-Wear Fall-Winter 2004-2005 fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Josephine Le Tutuor

“I walked the Chanel show many times and had the chance to shoot with Karl a few years ago. I arrived on set late afternoon, because he usually shot through the night. I arrived at his studio behind a library in Paris. It was such a beautiful studio, filled of books and was very large. I remember being very nervous to shoot with him. When he arrived on set I was sitting in the make up chair, he came over and was very nice to me. He explained to me his idea for the shoot and then we started working. I think we shot two or three pictures. He knew exactly what he wanted. It was one of my favorite shoots ever.”

Josephine Le Tutour walks the runway during the Chanel Fall-Winter 2015-2016 fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Jules Horn
Antonio de Moraes Barros Filho

“I remember when I met him the first time at a shoot in Paris for V magazine. It took a bit before we warmed up with each other. After a few shots he took of me and the female model, we started talking in German and he shared stories when he grew up in Germany with me. When we finished the shoot, he said: ‘Hopefully I see you soon again.’ Two weeks later he booked me for the Chanel show in Paris and I got to see him again. It was beyond all my expectations. The size of that show was phenomenal and it was just a great atmosphere. There was a small dinner in on the day of the show, where I got to spend some more time with him. I’d never forget those moments. Karl was a genius and he will lighten up the sky as he did it on earth.”

Jules Horn walks the runway during the Chanel Fall-Winter 2017-2018 fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Kris Grikaite
Peter White

“My first ever memory about Karl is from a time when we hadn’t even met. I was reading an article in a Russian magazine about him featuring his most iconic quotes. I was intrigued and terrified at the same time by the power of his personality and his life path—how many lives, careers, and brands he has changed and what an impact on fashion he has made. I couldn’t imagine I would ever work with him, and when I was cast for the first time I cried. You can’t imagine how happy I was. I most treasured shooting the Chanel spring 2019 campaign photographed by Karl. We worked together for three days, he was very humble and nice and I knew something special was happening, but I never thought I would remember it as our last experience together. I’m still deeply saddened by his passing and will be forever grateful that our paths have crossed.”

Kris Grikaite walks the runway during the Chanel Spring-Summer 2018 fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Romina Lanaro
Jean Baptiste Lacroix

“I was fortunate to have worked a lot with Karl, particularly for Chanel. It was a wonderful experience, and the way he treated his people and the models was spectacular. I think that’s what made him so great, besides how wonderful his collections were. The impact he had on my career was very big and I am very thankful for that… We’re all going to miss him a lot.”

Romina Lanaro walks the runway during the Chanel Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2005 fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Roos Abels
Peter White

“I remember the first time i met Karl at my Fendi fitting when I was 15 and to me, he looked so cool sitting there with his sunglasses on and his long white hair with a ponytail. I was so impressed by him that I didn’t know what to say and then he started to ask me what my name was and where I came from. And he was actually listening to me when I was telling my story. A few seasons later, I started to do the Chanel shows and every time I came waking into the fitting room with my outfit he always said that I was looking amazing. One time during Couture, I was wearing one of the most beautiful dresses I’ve ever seen and I felt so beautiful and when I walked in, Karl and his whole team started clapping and I couldn’t stop smiling. Karl was also a very loyal person, since he always kept the girls he liked in his shows. I did the show 21 times. I will always have a big respect for what Karl did and how he made a beautiful collection over and over again. He will always be in my heart as a hard working man and the man who had respect for everyone around him.”

Roos Abels walks the runway during the Chanel Spring-Summer 2017 fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Susan Holmes

“I am blessed by the good fortune of so many wonderful memories with the legend, icon and genius himself. I first met Karl in Paris in the early ’90s, and was beyond delighted to get to work with him for countless amazing shows, campaigns, and photoshoots. I will never forget Karl photographing me personally for his Fendi or Karl Lagerfeld campaigns. But for me some of my fondest memories with him were when I got to see and hang out with him on a personal level, while he would be creating yet another stunning masterful collection at the infamous 5 Rue Cambon fittings. Karl was a perfectionist, but he was also very down to earth. We even shared McDonald’s pomme frites on a few occasions during those late night Chanel fittings. How cool is that? Karl kept it real: real passionate, real inspiring, and leaving a real legacy.”

Susan Holmes model walks the runway during the Chanel Ready-to-Wear Fall-Winter 1991-1992 fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Patricia Hartmann

“When I met Karl Lagerfeld during the early ’90s he catapulted my career and put me on the map of the fashion world literally overnight. He had Yannick D’is chop off my long hair right there at the Chanel design headquarters on Rue Cambon, and then made a little sketch for me. It was the beginning of my career, and I ended up walking for all the shows he designed for many years at Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, Chloe, and Fendi. At the end of my first Chanel show (and also my first runway show ever), he grabbed my hand on one side and Claudia Schiffer’s on the other, and we walked out together for the finale.

We always spoke this funny mixture of German and English together, that no one else could understand. He was a creative genius, he was outrageous, and he didn’t believe in political correctness. He liked strong women, not shy wallflowers. He brought me out of my shell and taught me how to be confident. No, he demanded that I be confident.”

Patricia Hartmann walks the runway during the Chanel Ready-to-Wear Fall-Winter 1993-1994 fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Veronica Webb
Michel Arnaud

“Karl Lagerfeld had the common touch; there was no creative person from any walk of life that Karl couldn’t relate to or elevate. In my memories of working with Karl as a kid from Detroit, walking into one of his chateaux where he lived and shot pictures was his ability to show everyone how the magic of fashion could help you cast a spell to rule the world.”

Veronica Webb walks the runway during the Chanel 1987 Winter Couture fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Gail Elliott

“It was the greatest privilege to have worked with Karl for so many years. I was the shy one back then, unlike Naomi, Christy, Cindy, Yasmin, Linda, Marpessa, and the other models, but he was always kind and made me feel at ease in his company. He loved to joke that he couldn’t call me by my first name because it had a very similar spelling to a ‘bad word,’ as he would say, in German. He’d say to people, ‘I can’t possibly call this beautiful girl by her first name…so I call her Miss Elliott,’ and he’d have everyone in the room laughing. He was always so kind and generous, whether it was to make sure I’d eaten when arriving for fittings or to insist I went downstairs to the Chanel boutique on Rue Cambon for a shopping spree on my way out.

Walking the runway for Karl Lagerfeld in Paris was always something I looked forward to during show season. Karl was such an amazing talent. At the time he was the designer for Chanel, Fendi, Chloe, and his own line Karl Lagerfeld, and I would show for him for all his lines for many, many years. As a designer now for my women’s clothing brand Little Joe Woman by Gail Elliott, I realize how much work is involved. I’m amazed at how he could possibly design four collections twice a year, plus Chanel couture and shoot some of the campaigns and be at all his runway shows. Thank you Karl, I’m so grateful for so many wonderful memories.”

Gail Elliott walks the runway during the Karl Lagerfeld Ready-to-Wear Winter 1992-1993 fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Time & Life Pictures

“My memory of Karl is when i was working with him in 1990 in Paris. Karl was an excellent photographer, and he was one of the most creative designers i have ever meet. We took the pictures at his house in Paris, and I remember we did not start until very late and we worked the whole night together.He later sent me a drawing he made of me. It’s in my house, has moved with me all over the world, and I love it.”

Vendela. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.