On Tuesday morning, Chanel announced that Karl Lagerfeld, its creative director since 1983, had died at age 85. Despite his age, the news comes as a shock: Lagerfeld—as his many quips readily showed—was as alert as ever, and up until his death he was still churning out around 14 collections per year, in addition to pursuing his career as a photographer and maintaining his role as the creative director of Fendi, which he first took on back in 1965. (Not to mention running his own namesake label.) Still, there were some signs that all might not be well chez Lagerfeld; less than a month ago, the designer failed to appear at both of Chanel’s couture shows.
Born in Germany in 1933, Lagerfeld moved to Paris as a teenager, where he began his career by assisting Pierre Balmain. And while he preferred to keep his personal life private—save for his love for his cat Choupette, a fashion personality in her own right and a multimillionaire—the outpouring of tributes to the designer following the announcement of his death on Tuesday proved that practically all of fashion was his family.
Above all, Lagerfeld’s talent lay in knowing how to develop a brand, as evidenced by his instantly recognizable appearance; in recent years, he was practically always outfitted in a black and white ensemble, fingerless gloves, oversize sunglasses, and a white ponytail. Increasingly, he also made his presence known via a seemingly endless stream of inflammatory quips, which ranged from shutdowns of Meryl Streep to edicts like “sweatpants are a sign of defeat.” As proven by another of his infamous quotes, “Chanel is an institution, and you have to treat an institution like a whore—and then you get something out of her,” not even his employer was safe from his critiques.
In one particularly unbelievable interview last year, Lagerfeld said that he would sooner “kill [him]self” than spend the rest of his life on an island with either of three of his buzziest designer contemporaries: Simon Porte Jacquemus, Jonathan Anderson, and Virgil Abloh. If the latter took that personally, he didn’t show it; he was one of the many, many designers who Instagrammed tributes to Lagerfeld on Tuesday, describing him as an inspiration. Marc Jacobs, Alexander Wang, Donatella Versace, Diane Von Furstenberg, Alber Elbaz, and Victoria Beckham, who lauded Lagerfeld as “a genius to me both personally and professionally,” also spoke of Lagerfeld’s influence on the app.
It’s no surprise that the tributes have spanned across industries; Lagerfeld was also instrumental in inviting celebrities into the world of fashion. His eye for young talent was perhaps best exemplified by his choice in one of the perennial stars of Chanel shows: Hudson Kroenig, who’s practically grown up on the house’s runway since he was born, in 2008. Lagerfeld’s unexpected choice in muses extended over to those typically rejected by the fashion industry, like Kim Kardashian West, hence Kris Jenner’s prompt appreciation of the designer along with a range of other A-listers, including David Beckham and Lindsay Lohan. (According to Diane Kruger’s tribute, it was just a few days ago that she visited Paris to see the designer and introduce him to her daughter, only to become “heartbroken” upon learning that she was “too late.”)
Lagerfeld’s connections in the fashion world also spanned generations. Over the decades he spent at the helm of two of the industry’s most esteemed houses, Lagerfeld worked closely not only with ’90s supermodels like Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell but also their contemporary counterparts. (He even recently designed a capsule collection with 17-year-old Kaia Gerber.) Gigi Hadid was one of the first to commemorate the designer, writing “I’m so heartbroken I almost don’t have words. There will never be another Karl Lagerfeld,” on her Instagram Stories. She was soon joined by her sister Bella Hadid and more models, like Joan Smalls:
Still, if you weren’t one of his legion of admirers, and aren’t afraid to admit it, Lagerfeld would likely understand. He was not, after all, afraid to stand out in stark contrast to those who mourned Pierre Bergé, the cofounder of Yves Saint Laurent; in an interview last year, he unabashedly summed up his reaction to the death of one of his “best enemies” by recalling how when it came time for Bergé’s funeral, his florist simply asked him, “Do you want us to send a cactus?”