Karl Lagerfeld ‘Breathed Fashion’: Anna Wintour, Nina Garcia, and More Remember the Iconic Designer
The fashion community speaks out in praise and sorrow at the news that the designer and Chanel creative director died on February 19 at the age of 85.
Around noon Tuesday, on the final day of London Fashion Week, news broke that longtime Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld had died at the age of 85. Lagerfeld had been ill since at least January 22, skipping out on Chanel’s Paris Couture show because he was “feeling tired.”
Tributes poured in on social media from models, editors, and those who had worked with the legend during his 64-year career.
Donatella Versace wrote on Instagram, “Karl, your genius touched the lives of so many, especially Giani and I. We will never forget your incredible talent and endless inspiration. We were always learning from you.”
Sisters Gigi and Bella Hadid posted the same statement in an Instagram story: “There will never be another Karl Lagerfeld. Every second with you was an honor, joy, and inspiration. I wish I could give you one last hug.”
On Twitter, Kim Kardashian West recalled how Lagerfeld shot one of her first spreads for CR Fashion Book in 2013. “I was so nervous to work [with] such an icon!” she wrote. “The world is so much chicer because you existed.”
Even First Lady Melania Trump chimed in, writing on Twitter, “Today the world lost a creative genius. We will miss you Karl!” (In 2017, rumors swirled that Lagerfeld would dress Trump for the inauguration. Though she ended up choosing Ralph Lauren for that event, Trump did wear an ivory cashmere skirt suit by Lagerfeld while meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House one month later.)
In a statement provided to The Daily Beast, Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue, wrote, “Today the world has lost a giant among men. Karl was so much more than our greatest and most prolific designer—his creative genius was breathtaking, and to be his friend was an exceptional gift. Karl was brilliant, he was wicked, he was funny, he was generous beyond measure, and he was deeply kind. I will miss him so very much.”
ELLE editor-in-chief Nina Garcia told The Daily Beast that the last time she saw Lagerfeld was in December at a private meeting set up to preview the Lagerfeld's Métiers d’Art show at the Met. “He was upbeat, sharp as always, and engaging. When he was speaking about the collection, he casually showed me a black-and-white picture of his mother. It was such a sweet moment that contrasted with all the chaos and frenzy that surrounds the organization of a big Chanel show.”
Garcia worked with Lagerfeld most recently on a December ELLE feature that celebrated some of his favorite supermodels, including Joan Smalls, Natasha Poly, Yasmin Wijnaldum, and Hannah Ferguson. Before that, he shot Nicki Minaj for the glossy in July. The editor said that she will remember Lagerfeld as a “giant” who “always sent the most beautiful notes, which always accompanied a welcome bouquet of the most gorgeous flowers.”
Garcia added, “Karl Lagerfeld didn’t breathe oxygen. He breathed fashion.”
Stellene Volandes, editor-in-chief of Town & Country, noted that Lagerfeld’s death came just days after the passing of socialite Lee Radziwill, another influential tastemaker. “I think this week, we are all considering the importance, value, and necessity of taste in the world. Both Radziwill and Lagerfeld were exceedingly well-read, they knew it all, and yet they always wanted to know more. That curiosity informed their taste—it was decisive and discriminating and definite—and it moved us all forward.”
Lagerfeld's Chanel Paris Couture shows were legendary, as the events were dream-like spectacles with elaborate staging. His team would recreate the Eiffel Tower on the runway, build a gigantic rocket set-piece, or turn the Grand Palais into a beach, complete with sand, waves, and lifeguards.
“Those shows were sort of sneakily commercial,” said Tyler McCall, deputy editor of Fashionista. “If you broke them down, there were still all these basics that a Chanel customer would really want, but the runway was put together in such a creative way.”
McCall remembered interviewing Lagerfeld on a New York red carpet during her first year at Fashionista in 2013. “ I think I basically blacked-out,” McCall laughed. “It was kind of an out-of-body experience. It was such as thrilling moment to see and talk to him in person. He was so on top of it; he was so good, even in a short interview.”
In the interview, Lagerfeld told McCall: “I don’t think about the past. I think about tomorrow, and after tomorrow, because you know, I am never pleased with what I am doing. I think I can improve, it can be better... I’m never happy with myself, and that’s a very healthy thing.”
Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief Glenda Bailey met Lagerfeld in 1988, when she headed Marie Claire UK. Bailey was a frequent dinner guest at Lagerfeld's Parisian apartment. “Often, for these dinners I would turn up in a dress—it didn’t matter whose dress it was—and he would tell me the origin of the design. He would say, ‘I know where that inspiration came from.' And then he would explain it was based on an original design from Madame Grès or Vionnet or Schiaparelli. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of fashion and a deeper well of aesthetic references than anyone I’ve ever met.”
When Bailey received her Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth in 2008, Lagerfeld offered to design her a Chanel couture suit for the occasion. “He asked what color the medal was. I told him it was pink,” Bailey remembered. “I arrived in Britain and we opened up the garment bag, expecting to see pink, but there was a navy blue suit. So, I wrote him a note and said, ‘Oh well, navy blue is the pink of England.’”
The last time Bailey met with Lagerfeld, the two were hashing out ideas for his next Harper's Bazaar collaboration. “He was excited, as game as ever,” Bailey recalled. “'That is the best idea I've ever heard!' he said, without hesitation. And I thought to myself, 'That's high praise indeed, coming from the master.'”