Cara Delevingne, Tilda Swinton, and Pharrell Williams

Fashion's Tribute to Karl Lagerfeld Was an Extravagant Celebrity Talent Show

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.

Inside "Karl For Ever," a tribute to the late designer Karl Lagerfeld at the Grand Palais in Paris on June 20, 2019.

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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.

Tilda Swinton onstage at "Karl For Ever," a tribute to the late designer Karl Lagerfeld at the Grand Palais in Paris on June 20, 2019.

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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.

Cara Delevingne onstage at "Karl For Ever," a tribute to the late designer Karl Lagerfeld at the Grand Palais in Paris on June 20, 2019.

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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.

Helen Mirren and Charlie Siem onstage at "Karl For Ever," a tribute to the late designer Karl Lagerfeld at the Grand Palais in Paris on June 20, 2019.

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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.

Related: Every Unbelievable Thing Karl Lagerfeld Said in His Numéro Interview, Translated From the French