I have always loved Karl and his cat. From the iconic white hair swept into a sleek ponytail to the fingerless black gloves, the diamond belts and the paper fans he carried even when there was a chill in the air, everything about Karl Lagerfeld was extra and flamboyant.
Mr. Lagerfeld was indeed a character to behold, paving the way for the world of haute couture for more than six decades, all behind his dark glasses. His death at 85 from pancreatic cancer feels like the last true link to true high fashion in the traditional sense, Karl was at the helm and no detail was left out or missed, Karl had his vision, and god help you if you didn’t execute it.
To remain creative director at Chanel, for over 30 years, in the fickle world of the fashion industry is almost unheard of. Karl kept Chanel current but still with that elusive edge, he never created ‘accessible Chanel’ (which is why I don’t own any), he kept the brand prestigious and unachievable to the masses. This served him well, with a fortune of over £100 million and multiple homes, he wasn’t short of the cash to back up his lifestyle. He is famously known for owning over 300 iPods, each one with different music and he was a fine art collector until he got bored and thought it was a cliché so sold the lot in 2001.
Don’t get it twisted, Karl could be cutting and sometimes a little too cutting, he made errors with some of his comments however he was never apologetic and I admire his lack of political correctness in the current world we live in. His favourite insult was the term ‘provincial’, basically, he meant common, something that he frequently called Yves Saint Laurent, one of his greatest rivals in the industry. He said Adele was ‘a bit fat, but had a nice face and beautiful voice’ and Kate Middleton having a ‘romantic beauty’ which was pleasant until he quickly followed up with ‘I don’t like her sisters face, she should only show her back’, ouch. Not only was Karl scathing in his remarks about others but he was also his own greatest critic. He decided that he wanted to embody the sleek, slim and lithe bodies of the fashion world, so in 2004 the fashion world was left astonished when he shed the equivalent of two catwalk models in weight (98lbs) and remained slim until his recent passing. Self-discipline is the most important discipline of all, he commented on his new teenage skinny jean shape.
Born in 1933 to a wealthy German family, Karl was never a rag to riches story, Karl has never experienced rags. Despite being born into money he wasn’t driven to make money himself he was driven by his art. Moving to Paris at the age of 21, he didn’t start at the bottom, he started with Balmain. Working alongside some of the most glamorous celebrities of the era and dressing them for the highest profile occasions, it didn’t take long before Karl was the most sought after designer in Paris. Moving on to Chloe in his late 20’s before being recruited by Fendi in his 30’s then it was time for him to take his iconic role at Chanel in 1983, where he remained until his death.
I have visited many Chanel stores all over the world including the Flagship store in Paris on Avenue Montaigne, as well as the Bond Street and Rodeo Drive stores being amongst my favorites. The items in this store to are unobtainable to me price wise, however this has not deterred me from spending hours in them, I am not torturing myself (well a little) but viewing the clothes, shoes, bags, and accessories similar to that of an art curator would at the Louvre. Of course, there are some items that I could stretch to and still be able to keep a roof over my head but these are such small items I didn’t truly love them. If I was going to own Chanel then I wanted to own a piece of Chanel, not a token. You never know, this day may still come, I am misty eyed just dreaming of it.
I may not have a piece of Chanel but I do have some Karl. In 2007 Karl opened his own, more affordable ‘ready to wear’ collection called simply ‘Karl’. When talking about this new artistic franchise Karl said “I design like I breathe,” he says of his artistic process, “you don’t ask to breathe — it just happens”. Fashion is an attitude more than a clothing detail.” When I visited the Dusseldorf store there was one item that I really wanted, the embodiment of Karl, some fingerless leather gloves. The quality was beautiful and the price point was reasonable and let's be honest, it was like wearing a tiny bit of Chanel (if the gloves were Chanel’s cousin twice removed). I love them.
Not surprisingly so much of the clothing and accessories in the Karl franchise is centred around Karl himself as well as his other true love, Choupette, his cat. Probably about to become one of the richest felines in the world as she is written into his will and one of the only cats that I know of that had a birthday party and a gift list which included 100 white roses, she received over one thousand. Mademoiselle Choupette is at the heart of the majority of the collection and whoever takes the helm at Karl better make sure that she is incorporated and indeed consulted at all times. Obnoxious? Extravagant? Eccentric? Yes, yes, yes, but I for one would not have it any other way. The fashion world has lost a great, a true personal favourite of mine, a legend. Mr. Lagerfeld, I will miss you, may you rest in fabulous peace.