Tuesday 19 February 2019 will be written into history as the day the world lost one of the greatest designers of the 19th and 20th centuries. But then again, Karl Lagerfeld never saw himself as being entirely of this world. “I don’t want to be real in other people’s lives,” he said, in 2007’s Lagerfeld Confidential documentary. “I want to be like an apparition, that appears and then disappears.” And assimilating himself into storied fashion houses so perfectly – pushing them into their next chapter and turning around their fortunes while he was at it – surely did require apparition-like shapeshifting abilities. During his lesser known Chloé years, Lagerfeld cemented the bohemian aesthetic for which the brand is now known. At Fendi, where he served as creative director for over five decades, he transformed the staid furrier into a luxury ready-to-wear brand – designing its now indelible “Double F” (Fun Fur). But he will forever be immortalised as the man who reinjected the modernity and flair back into Chanel, where he was creative director from 1983, which had dissipated in the 12 years since its founder’s death.
Legendary, visionary, iconic, prolific… it’s impossible to find a word in the four languages (English, French, German and Italian) Lagerfeld spoke that quite encapsulates his impact on the fashion world and beyond. Instead, Vogue called upon some of his closest friends and collaborators to share their memories.
25 Of Karl Lagerfeld’s Most Iconic Muses.
One of Lagerfeld’s original muses, the German supermodel and actress closed many Chanel shows in the 1990s and remained a vocal supporter of the designer throughout his life.
“Creativity personified, Karl’s support transformed me from a shy German teenager into a supermodel. As intuitive as he was innovative, his advice, wit and inexhaustible energy were infectious and inspiring in equal measure. To his muse, he was my mentor, a profoundly cultured, kind and charismatic man, with an extraordinary mind and an unparalleled vision. I will miss him terribly.”
The director worked with Lagerfeld on a Chanel Number 5 campaign starring Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman.
“Over the last 20 years, my costume-and-production-designing wife Catherine Martin and I have known Karl as a creative collaborator and more importantly, as a friend. Any moment spent with him was beguiling, majestic, funny and insightful. One was left with a sense of having been off-planet, in the best possible way, with formal dinner parties where exotic guests would appear and disappear, and even though Karl held your absolute attention, it sometimes seemed as though he were holding court at one, two, three different tables, at four different locations. Yet behind the magical arras, there was always an intensely hard-working artist and craftsman.
“Over 15 years ago, we collaborated with Chanel to re-imagine the creative campaign for their iconic No. 5 perfume with Nicole Kidman. Now, a very large part of the attraction of doing this project was that we would get to work with the legendary Karl Lagerfeld. In our early meetings, we presented Karl with some visual references so that he could realise the costumes for the film, and in particular a large and extraordinary pink couture frock that was massively impractical to fit inside a taxi, but nonetheless looked amazing as it fluttered its way down Times Square. Meetings with Karl, dinners with Karl, watching him improvise a speech at the UN was all easy, enjoyable. More difficult was getting Karl to deliver the sketches, particularly of that key pink frock.
The Life And Times Of Karl Lagerfeld
“So I followed him around the world until I finally cornered him at the Mercer Hotel in New York City, where we sat down together. I said to Karl, ‘We really do need the dress, because we need to make three of them. One for the film, one for the stunts, and one in case it tears.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Oh, three? That is many dresses…’ He took a serviette out, sketched the dress perfectly on the serviette. The voluminous layers of chiffon and ostrich feather, the shape of the bodice, etc. And he goes, ‘Hmm. I think it’s perfect.’ He took the serviette, put it in his pocket, and so I knew, construction would begin. I’m happy to say that after the film was made, he went in and drew a beautiful gouache in his famous illustrative style, a copy of which he gave to Nicole and me.
“That’s Karl, the eternal improvisor: in the moment, his synapses alive, entertaining, always in the background, thinking, planning, and plotting. Boy, he will be missed. Karl taught me that it’s equally important not to look back when your creation’s been successful, as when it’s not. He moved relentlessly forward at all times and hated nostalgia. Having disdain for being called a genius and a legend in his own lifetime, believing the best was always ahead of him.”
The American model, entrepreneur and Kode With Klossy founder has walked for both Chanel and Fendi, and been photographed by Lagerfeld on several occasions.
“The only thing more inspiring than Karl’s vision, talent and creativity was his heart. He was one of the first designers I worked with in Paris, and that initial collaboration – and every time we worked together since – shaped my perspective of the fashion industry. He showed me that fashion is about so much more than what meets the eye. At its best, fashion is an expression of art and creativity, hard work and passion. I think Karl had a more irreverent spirit than anyone I have ever met, and he was always the first one to embrace the future. I remember when the iPhone first came out and he was the first person I knew who had one. He always had an otherworldly way to keep his thumb on the pulse, unafraid to embrace the new, sharing his vision for the future and leading us there. His unparalleled work ethic, passion, dedication and love for his craft is a vital life lesson in and of itself. Karl was a legend – a true artist, and while his loss is profound, so was his work, and for that we can all be grateful.”
TV personality, author and “momager” to the Kardashian clan, Jenner has been a front-row fixture at Lagerfeld’s shows for years, especially when her daughter Kendall was on the runway.
“The first time I met Karl was when my daughter Kim was being photographed by him in Paris and I went along with her. When I saw the call sheet for the photoshoot I was so excited. Karl was shooting Kim and Riccardo Tisci was doing the art direction. I said to Kim, ‘Have you seen this? This is wild!’ And I went and immediately repacked my suitcase with all my vintage Chanel. When we got there, we were staying at Kanye’s apartment in Paris. I got ready for the shoot but Kim said it was really embarrassing because I was dressed head-to-toe in vintage Chanel. I was wearing over-the-knee boots, chains, earrings – all ’80s Chanel. But when we got to the set, Karl was delighted. He told me how much he loved what I was wearing. But then he said ‘Wait!’ and went to the other room. When he came back he was carrying a black and white Lego bag that had only just been on the runway. He said, ‘This is what you need to complete your look!’ Kim was really grumpy – she hadn’t expected him to be so happy with my outfit. But then Karl told me that the fit of my Chanel gloves weren’t quite right. He said, ‘Darling, I’ll make you some!’ And he did! He made me fingerless gloves in every colour. A few years later, when Kendall was walking in his shows all the time, he would say to her, ‘Please give this to your mother’, and send me gifts. He was always so supportive of her, and he always remembered me. He was the kindest and most generous man.”
The American supermodel appeared in her first solo campaign for Chanel’s 2015 Cruise collection, and has walked the runway in Lagerfeld’s creations on several occasions.
“He really demonstrated what dedication and love for your craft looked like. His wit and dry sense of humour always got me, and the few times he would take off his iconic shades you would see his gentle soul that inspired and redefined what fashion should be. He challenged the standard with his extraordinary creativity that will live on forever. I’m so lucky and honoured to have worked beside such a fashion genius, who gave me the opportunity to be part of something great.”
Longtime muse and friend of Lagerfeld, the German-American actress was often dressed by the designer for her red carpet appearances, and was a regular on Chanel’s haute couture FROW.
“I once flew with Karl on his private plane from Paris to Hong Kong. Everyone had fallen asleep, but we stayed up chatting the entire 13 hours about his childhood and upbringing. I noticed he was clutching a very old looking embroidered travelling pillow. His mother had given it to him as a child and he never travels without it. We always spoke German with each other, so even when his entourage woke up in the morning, before landing, we were in our own little world. I remember him finally getting up to go to the bathroom and the white powder he uses for his hair had left a stain on the seat where he was sitting. I don’t know why, but I always think about that. Wherever he went he left a mark. He was larger than life.”
As a fledgling model, Elson found a friend in Lagerfeld who cast her as the face of Chanel and dubbed her a beauty for the new millennium.
“I remember meeting Karl when I was 18 years old. I walked into his marvellous studio, with books piled high and Karl sitting at a large oval table, sketching ideas furiously and talking in German, then French and then English. I remember his fierce intelligence and wit. He was instantly so tender and protective of me. He told me I looked like the silent film actress Louise Brooks and would muse over my alabaster skin. There was such a myth behind Karl. On the outside he seemed unapproachable – hidden behind a fan and his dark glasses – but in person his warmth and generosity was so sincere.
“I went on to walk and close the illustrious Chanel show. I was young and had a meagre bank account, even Topshop was a stretch so Karl let me go into the Chanel store on Rue Cambon and told me to get anything I wanted. I felt like Cinderella being dressed for the ball. I got so many beautiful twin sets, bags, cashmere, dresses and coats. I still have most of them and the sentiment I have for that moment still lingers with me. Rags to riches at least in appearances! I lived in an apartment owned by a so-called ‘slum lord’ in Chelsea in New York, and everyday I’d walk outside my dingy abode dressed head to toe in Chanel. I’m sure it was a funny sight to see. Karl educated me, he taught me about the photographic techniques he used, gave me books on artists I’d never heard of, spoke to me about the great legends in fashion. Between Karl and Amanda Harlech I learnt so much about fashion and the great allegiances that go on behind the scenes.
“Over the years, I’ve shot with Karl for numerous magazines and Chanel campaigns. Sometimes we could go a few years without seeing each other and while fashions wax and wane, whenever I saw Karl, we would sit and talk like no time had passed at all, and that’s what I’ll miss most. Those tender moments, not his brash statements, or the myth he portrayed, I’ll miss the man who simply wanted to talk about what inspired him and muse all day about pop culture. I’ll miss his gentleness and generosity and I’ll miss the legacy of elegance and daring that he brought to fashion.”
“Fashion is about change – and I like change,” Lagerfeld told Menkes in an interview in 2018. The two were friends for much of their careers.
“My favourite memory of Karl was when he threw a party in his Paris home on the Left Bank in honour of Gianni Versace, who had become fashion’s new darling in the early 1990s. It was Karl’s wicked way to drown the competition with kindness, and with every tray of champagne, every plate of caviar on toast, every arrival of another famous fashion guru, flamboyant Gianni seemed to shrink. Like a cat – although Karl hadn’t gone cat mad by then. Gianni slunk away, guarding himself behind a tiny coterie of Italian friends, while Karl stood at the top of the stairs, triumphantly meeting and greeting. It’s called ‘stealing the show’.
“Karl devoured books as most of us fashion folk gobble dark chocolate. He talked about books, sent some to me – and asked for my response. Like his photography, when every picture seemed to be telling a deep and mysterious story, the books were stories expressed in words, not images. He would keep books at his homes, piles of them. And the last time I talked about reading with him last year, he said that he had opened up his home with glass partitions, rather than the original walls. But how to find a book that he loved? ‘Life’s too short,’ Karl said. ‘I just buy another one.’”
Russian supermodel and philanthropist Vodianova has worked with the designer several times – most memorably during an Alice in Wonderland-themed shoot for American Vogue in 2003, which was photographed by Annie Leibovitz and styled by Grace Coddington.
“Karl was one of the people that reinforced my trust in my own instincts. He said, ‘don’t doubt your instincts, they are your only non-biased advisors.’ Shooting Alice in Wonderland was a very fun experience. Grace wanted Karl to be the Duchess but Karl wouldn’t have it. He wanted to be himself and not a character in the book. In the end, Grace told him that he would just be Karl, but slipped a baby piglet in my hands. I am sure Karl knew what was going on really because surely he read Alice in Wonderland. He only portended to take himself seriously, but Grace and I felt like we were two girls who got away with a little bêtise. He was larger than life, but a gentle giant in the end. Karl, you were a quiet force of love and support for so many people, me included. So grateful for everything you have done for me.”
The Dutch supermodel has been a fixture on the runway at Chanel since her memorable debut in 2006.
“The first time I worked with Karl, I fell over at his fashion show. I was mortified and as I was getting back on my feet, I remember thinking that’s it, you blew it. He’ll never work with you again. Luckily Karl was more forgiving, and I was fortunate enough to work on many projects with him over the years. I cherish all those times and will miss him dearly.”
The actress, model and musician has fronted campaigns for Chanel and walked for Fendi – a product of her two decade-long friendship with the designer.
“If you were in the Fendi show, you knew you had arrived. And here I was. I looked around during my fitting and saw some of the most famous and beautiful faces in the industry at the time. I had met Karl Lagerfeld many times in my career by that point, but had never officially worked with him, so I knew this was going to be one of the most exciting moments I had ever experienced. And it was. During the rehearsal for the show, we models got a lot of direction from the organisers. They even put huge signs up: No posing, no twirling, no dancing, no stopping. And most of all, the producers said, looking at all of us sternly, “NO INTERACTING WITH THE AUDIENCE!”
“Well my heart sank. I mean, why would they hire me for this show if all they wanted was for us to walk down this complex runway like zombies? The runway was set up to twist through the audience, sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left, in a huge circle. And since we would be walking at almost ground level to the viewers, I had been so looking forward to high fiving people I knew. And no dancing? I mean who can stop themselves from dancing just a little bit when you look so fabulous and the music is so great? I completed the rehearsal with a heavy heart like a good little mannequin.
“Finally the time had come and Karl was personally checking every girl’s final look. When he approached me and started giving direction to the stylists about my outfit, he noticed that I wasn’t as cheerful as usual and asked me what was the matter. I was so happy that someone cared and launched into my laundry list of complaints. ‘Oh Karl! They said we can’t do ANYTHING! No dancing, no twirling! We can’t even talk to the audience! I mean, it’s just so… boring!’ He stopped working and looked at me from below his dark glasses. I froze. Had I gone too far? I mean this was his show. Then he laughed. ‘Milla my dear. Rules don’t apply to you.’ And he was on to the next girl.
“When I got out there, I stopped, I twirled, I danced and high fived to my heart’s content. The girl behind me kept hissing, ‘Move!’ because I would make these sudden stops to say hi to someone and she would almost walk into me. But I had Karl’s blessing. After I got backstage again, flushed from my incredible success on the runway, there was silence. Everyone was looking at me in horror. I was a loose cannon. Totally out of control. I had ruined everything! Needless to say, I never did another season of runway after that. People were terrified of me.
“A few months later, I booked my first Chanel campaign. Shot by Karl Lagerfeld. In his private mansion in the middle of Paris. From there I worked with Karl on many more campaigns and art projects and it became a 20-year friendship. Karl loved loose cannons. He loved creative, passionate people. He especially loved those that didn’t follow the rules. Not surprisingly, because he was all those things himself.”
Soo Joo Park
South Korea-born and California-raised, the model and DJ counted Lagerfeld as one of her biggest supporters in the fashion industry. She has starred in Chanel campaigns, walked in their shows and even appeared on the Chanel podcast, 3.55.
“Karl always encouraged me to be expressive and creative. I will never forget when I first sent him my drawing six years ago, and months later on a shoot, he pulled it out of his journal where he’d kept it. He told me I was talented – which, coming from Mr Lagerfeld, might be the biggest compliment – and told me to make more. Every couple of seasons, I’d make a drawing for him, as a gesture of love and gratitude. What else can I give a man who has everything? It amazed me that he gave a girl like me any time or recognition, and it showed me what a high-spirited, generous person he was. His energy, charisma and intelligence were unparalleled from the beginning to the end. He and the house of Chanel changed my life and I am forever grateful. I will miss him terribly. I will adore, respect and remember him for eternity. My deepest, truest love to you and my Chanel family.”