How does one possibly pay tribute to the life of Karl Lagerfeld, who was as prolific as humanly possible until his death at age 85 earlier this year? In the midst of Paris Fashion Week Men’s on Thursday, Chanel, Fendi, and Lagerfeld’s eponymous brand attempted to do as much—even though Lagerfeld had essentially spared them from doing so. “It was not what he wanted,” Carine Roitfeld told WWD ahead of the ceremony. “But maybe if it’s as good as I wish it’s going to be; he’s going to be very happy.”
If it was a celebration rather than a memorial that Roitfeld had in mind, well, she definitely got her wish. The extravaganza, titled “Karl For Ever,” took place in the Grand Palais—the venue that, until earlier this year, Lagerfeld had reliably transformed into some of the most over-the-top sets in fashion history, from a snowy village in Switzerland to a beach with actual waves that washed ashore.
It’s hard to imagine that Lagerfeld wouldn’t have approved of this latest staging. In true homage to a designer who always loved to pay homage to himself, it was papered with portraits (and self-portraits) of Lagerfeld, from floor to ceiling. His talent was also showcased via a video of him interviewing himself.
From there, dozens of his fellow designers—including Jonathan Anderson, Nicolas Ghesquière, Simon Porte Jacquemus, Clare Waight Keller, and Marine Serre—followed on stage to deliver their own tributes. More designers, such as Alber Elbaz, could be found in the crowd, along with a handful of Lagerfeld’s muses throughout the decades, including Gigi Hadid, Claudia Schiffer, and Inès de la Fressange. As for the rest, they ranged from first ladies of France past and present, Carla Bruni and Brigitte Macron, to Kimora Lee Simmons, showcasing the vastness of Lagerfeld’s reach.
Equally varied were the evening’s performances, which varied from a dance by 17 tango performances to a reading from Orlando, Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel about transformation and identity, by Tilda Swinton. (The actress famously starred in a film adaptation of the novel in 1992.) “Clothes wear us and not we them,” the actress recited. “They change our view of the world, and the world’s view of us.” Swinton had changed into an era-appropriate ensemble of patterned tights and bloomers before taking the stage; no such outfit was required for her performance of the poem “Tarantella,” which was written by Edith Sitwell—the legendary eccentric who just so happens to be Swinton’s cousin.
Cara Delevingne also opted to do a reading, even though she’s become increasingly known for making music these days. Like Swinton, she turned to another of Lagerfeld’s favorite French authors and subjects: a poem by Colette, about cats. It was accompanied by a slideshow with photos of Lagerfeld’s beloved Choupette.
As for the pianist Lang Lang, he played a piano that Lagerfeld designed himself. The musical portion of the memorial carried over into Helen Mirren‘s performance, too; the violinist Charlie Siem accompanied her as she read from the designer’s 2013 memoir, The World According To Karl, which is as full of Karl-isms as you would expect. Her outfit was most definitely a nod to Lagerfeld as well—though she stopped short of tying her own silvery hair into a ponytail.
Last but not least, Pharrell Williams took the stage to perform his song “Gust of Wind.” Alas, we may never know whether it was one of the many jams to be found on Lagerfeld’s 300 iPods.
How Karl Lagerfeld’s Signature Look Transformed Over the Years
Karl Lagerfeld wearing a simple black suit while accepting the First Prize in the Coat category at the Fashion Design Competition in Paris on December 11, 1954. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
In November 1973, Lagerfeld sported a full beard to match his thick head of hair. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
In 1979, the beard was shaved off, but his signature large black sunglasses are present. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
In 1983 Karl Lagerfeld joined Chanel as its chief artistic director fashion designer and donned the uniform—black suit jacket, black tie, and white shirt with a high collar. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
Lagerfeld shifted gears to a three piece suit later in 1983, and swapped out the black jacket and pants for grey. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
The suits got slouchier—and the colors lightened up—for Lagerfeld by the time 1988 rolled around. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
In the early 1990s, Lagerfeld made the move to all black, keeping the oversized frames, and adding a fan for his accessory. Top models Nadja Auermann, Claudia Schiffer and Christy Turlington posed with Lagerfeld during the Karl Lagerfeld Ready-to-Wear Winter fashion show 1992-1993 on March 1992 in Paris, France. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
With a full head of his iconic white hair, the designer swapped out his signature suit for a sleek black turtleneck à la Steve Jobs at the Karl Lagerfeld at the 2002 Spring-Summer ready to wear fashion show. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
In preparation for his photo exhibition titled Versailles à l’ombre du soleil in April 2008, Lagerfeld adhered to his classic uniform once again. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
Lagerfeld greeted the audience after his show for Lagerfeld Gallery while wearing a black suit jacket and white tuxedo shirt on October 4, 2002 during the spring/summer 2003 ready-to-wear collections in Paris. Incidentally, this also seemed to have marked Lagerfeld’s blue jean phase. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
Lagerfeld swapped out the signature black jacket for a crimson one at Art Basel in December 2002. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
The designer donned a sparkly suit—a departure from his mostly understated uniform—during a Paris Vogue Party on October 13, 2003 at the Plazza Athenee Hotel in Paris, France. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
Lagerfeld attended the 2004 Met Gala dressed in his shredded up interpretation of the theme “Dangerous Liasons: Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century.”
Lagerfeld, his light beige suit jacket, tie, tight blue jeans, and his tan attended the Chanel Fall-Winter 2004-2005 Ready-to-Wear fashion show in Paris. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
For the Chanel 2008/09 Cruise Show in Miami, Lagerfeld’s tie grew wide, and his suit jacket remained as white as his signature ponytail. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
The designer went navy blue at the Cannes film festival in May 2015.
By 2016, it was all in the (jewel) details. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
In 2018, the beard returned once again, as did the richly detailed designs on Lagerfeld’s suits (this particular tie was embroidered with an image of his cat, Choupette) on November 22, 2018 in Paris. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
Lagerfeld went back to black once again, as he walked with his successor Virginie Viard on the runway during the Chanel show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2019 on October 2, 2018 in Paris, France. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.