It’s difficult to write about someone who was such a creative visionary but—and there’s no better way to say this—truly sucked as a person. Karl Lagerfeld, who died on February 19, was best known for being the creative designer for Chanel and also made headlines by saying some insanely provocative and controversial things without remorse. He’s described Adele as “a little too fat,” and made countless comments along those same lines—for him, derogatory comments about any girl above a size 0 were commonplace. He cruelly criticized Pippa Middleton’s face and, not so gently toeing the line of racism, Michelle Obama’s hair. He was not, by any means, a good person. But he was an intriguing one.
Lagerfeld falls into that eerily enigmatic category of beings that are seemingly heartless—not only because of his controversial viewpoints but because there is something innately unhuman about him. He’s a member of that group of uber-captivating, borderline-creepy famous people, accompanied by the likes of Alexander McQueen, Kanye West, or Julian Assange. The last one could be a stretch, but he carries the same heir of occult intrigue. Or maybe it’s just the really white hair.
Thinking back to the complicated legacies of the likes of Andy Warhol, isn’t it strange how some of the most mesmerizing art came from incredibly twisted minds? Maybe it’s because these artists aren’t afraid to offend people. They create without fear of judgement, and in that quality there is something to be admired.
Lagerfeld was a man of many contradictions: The fashion icon had a thick German accent, yet spoke impeccable English. He was opinionated and condescending, but spoke in a methodical, calculated manner. He directed some of the most ambitious, fashion-forward lines at Fendi, Channel, and his namesake fashion house, but stuck to a colorless uniform of a suit, tie, sunglasses, and leather gloves in his later years. Although a well-documented public figure, he has somehow maintained an aura of mystery, even in the era of the ever-invasive paparazzi that flocks to the fashionable few: We, the proletariat, haven’t seen his eyes in years, and no one knew his actual birth year until his birth certificate was published. Even after this information was made public, he continued to lie about his age.
Despite growing up in World War II Germany, he purportedly didn’t know about the war while it was going on. Lagerfeld was involved with Jacques de Bascher, a French model and aristocrat, and was aware of his affair with longtime friend Yves Saint Laurent—and he stuck with de Bascher anyway. He later said he would marry his cat if it were legal (the cat is apparently named in Lagerfeld’s will, and just might become the world’s richest cat very soon).
His amazing designs and sets are not to be overlooked—there are Chanel shows that I absolutely love, such as the Fall/Winter 2007 collection, with its pristine, white monotone carousel, the Spring/Summer 2018 line displayed beneath cascading waterfalls, and perhaps my personal favorite, the Fendi 90th Anniversary Show, which literally took place on top of the Trevi Fountain in Rome.
There’s something to be said for Lagerfeld’s work ethic and drive—he took Chanel, a then fashion house on the brink of collapse, and turned it into a lasting powerhouse. His 36-year reign at the now 109-year-old Paris fashion house revolutionized the world of modern fashion and allowed him to become one of the most prolific designers in the industry.
He made the oversight of multiple labels commonplace, as he was the creative director for Chanel, Fendi, and his own label Karl Lagerfeld simultaneously. According to The New Yorker, Lagerfeld’s workload was “staggering,” as he was “producing eight collections a year for Chanel, five for Fendi,” as well as several for his own label. On top of it all, in the publically-released 2017 annual report, Chanel disclosed that the company brought in upwards of $10 billion. That commands some respect.
He is best known for his amazingly imaginative work, and based on his seemingly-endless array of controversial opinions, maybe that’s all he should be known for. I’m not really sure if Lagerfeld’s eerie persona amounted to much more than useless intrigue. It’s difficult to say whether Chanel will find a replacement quite as iconic as Lagerfeld. It isn’t unlikely, though, that it will be another uber-entitled person with an exponential number of controversial opinions. Maybe artists like Lagerfeld need to be detached from the world, hovering over from their pedestal up in the sky—it gives them a viewpoint that no regular person could ever have. But with that lofty worldview should come a certain degree of impartiality. If you’re not living in our earthly, human world, you shouldn’t offer your speculation—it’s only fair. And while my last 700 words make an attempt to give a sweeping overview of his incredible work, as well as many shortcomings and faults, nobody can sum up Lagerfeld’s nature better than the man himself. In an interview prior to a fashion show in 2007, he said, “I have no human feelings.” And I think that’s all we needed to know.
Featured Image by Ally Mozeliak / Graphics Editor