After the news broke of his death on 20th of February 2019, the world was in shock. Now that everyone has had time to grief his death, we decided to make an Ode to Karl. Chronicling his life and work as the master of fashion.
German-born couturier Karl Lagerfeld passed away at the age of 85 on the morning of Tuesday, February 19, after being rushed to a hospital just outside of Paris the night before. According to sources close to the designer, Mr. Lagerfeld had been ill for several weeks, which could very well explain why he was absent for the past two Chanel haute couture shows in Paris.
Often referred to as “Kaiser Karl,” “Fashion Meister” and, simply, a “genius,” the creative force was undoubtedly the most prolific designer of his time. He managed to stay on top of the haute-couture industry for well over half a century, and at an age almost no other designer knew with such to-the-day precision. Yep, Mr. Lagerfeld never stopped creating.
Best known for his association with Chanel, Lagerfeld presided over the heritage fashion house for more than three decades after taking over in 1983. His unheard-of feat in fashion also saw the craftsman simultaneously helming creative direction for LVMH’s Fendi since 1965, as well as his eponymous fashion label.
“With the passing of Karl Lagerfeld we have lost a creative genius who helped to make Paris the fashion capital of the world and Fendi one of the most innovative Italian houses. We owe him a great deal: his taste and talent were the most exceptional I have ever known,” Bernard Arnault, the head of LVMH, said in a statement. “Fashion and culture has lost a great inspiration.”
Known to draw his own designs by hand, the fashion polyglot also wore many hats outside of a couturier. In addition to his roles at Chanel, Fendi and his namesake brand, the icon was an accomplished photographer and an author. What’s more, the rare sartorial phenomenon even moonlighted as a cartoonist, drawing political cartoons and caricatures for Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.
At the same time, though, Lagerfeld’s genius was often overshadowed by his offensive foot-in-mouth comments, stirring up multiple controversies, especially over the last few years. Among other things, he infamously described Adele as “a little too fat” back in 2012; dared to call Meryl Streep “cheap” leading up to the 2017 Oscars; and, that same year, sparked outrage when he decided to bring up the Holocaust when criticizing Germany’s open-door migration policies.
Now, as we reflect back and celebrate his legendary 50-year career, which saw him transform a once flagging brand into one of the most powerful luxury houses, we simply can’t sweep his degrading comments under the rug. We can—and should—remember him as a whole, flawed human.
Along with his sharp tongue, his endless contributions to fashion (along with his snow-white ponytail, razor-thin suits, fingerless gloves and dark glasses) will remain ingrained in our collective memory. As The New York Times style reporter Matthew Schneier put it so perfectly in his tweet, “People throw around ‘end of an era’ pretty freely these days, but this one truly merits it.”