Obituary

Iconic Fashion Designer Karl Lagerfeld Dies at 85

Karl Lagerfeld
David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock

Karl Lagerfeld photographed at the Chanel Paris-Londres 2007/8 Show in London on Dec. 6, 2007.

Chanel’s iconic couturier, Karl Lagerfeld, whose accomplished designs as well as trademark white ponytail, high starched collars and dark enigmatic glasses dominated high fashion for the past 50 years, has died. He was around 85 years old.

Such was the enigma surrounding the German-born designer that even his age was a point of mystery for decades, with reports he had two birth certificates, one dated 1933 and the other 1938. In 2013, Lagerfeld told French magazine Paris Match he was born in 1935, but in 2019 his assistant still didn’t know the truth — telling AP he liked “to scramble the tracks on his year of birth — that’s part of the character.”

Chanel confirmed that Lagerfeld died early Tuesday (Feb. 19).

Lagerfeld was of the most hardworking figures in the fashion world holding down the top design jobs at LVMH-owned luxury label Fendi from 1977, and Paris’ family-owned power-house Chanel in 1983. Indeed, his indefatigable energy was notable: he lost around 90 pounds in his late 60s to fit into the latest slimline fashions.

Though he spent virtually his entire career at luxury labels catering to the very wealthy — including all of 20 years at Chloe — Lagerfeld’s designs quickly trickled down to low-end retailers, giving him an almost unprecedented impact on the entire fashion industry.  

At Chanel, he served up youthful designs that were always of the moment and sent out almost infinite variations on the house’s classic skirt suit, ratcheting up the hemlines or smothering it in golden chains, stings of pearls or pricey accessories. They were always delivered with wit.

“Each season, they tell me (the Chanel designs) look younger. One day we’ll all turn up like babies,” he once told The Associated Press.

His outspoken and often stinging remarks on things as diverse as French politics and celebrity waistlines won him the nickname “Kaiser Karl” in the fashion media. Among the most acid comments included calling President Francois Hollande an “imbecile” who would be “disastrous” for France in Marie-Claire, and telling UK’s The Sun that he didn’t like the face of Pippa Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge’s sister.

“She should only show her back,” he advised.

Lagerfeld was also heavily criticized for sending out a negative message to women when he told France’s Metro newspaper that signer Adele was “a little too fat.” Despite this, he did have an under-reported soft side. He was known to be very kind to his staff at Chanel and was famous for according journalists generously long interviews after each fashion show. He also shared his unmarried life in his Parisian mansion with a Siamese cat called Choupette.