Haute-Couture Designer and Fashion Icon Karl Lagerfeld Dies at 85

By Pascale Denis and Richard Lough

German haute-couture designer Karl Lagerfeld, artistic director at Chanel and an icon of the fashion industry with his extravagant outfits and striking catwalks, has died aged 85.

FILE PHOTO: German designer Karl Lagerfeld poses after officially switching on the Christmas lights on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, France, November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

Instantly recognizable in his dark suits, pony-tailed white hair and sunglasses, Lagerfeld was best known for his association with Chanel but delivered collections for LVMH’s Fendi and his own eponymous label.

FILE PHOTO: German designer Karl Lagerfeld arrives to attend the official switching on the Christmas lights on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, France, November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: German designer Karl Lagerfeld appears at the end of his Spring/Summer 2019 women’s ready-to-wear collection show for fashion house Chanel during Paris Fashion Week in Paris, France, October 2, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe/File Photo

Rumors of Lagerfeld’s ill-health had swirled after he failed to show up at Chanel’s January show in Paris for his customary bow.

Chanel chief executive Alain Wertheimer recalled how he had given carte blanche to Lagerfeld in the early 1980s to reinvent the brand, from the Chanel jacket and suit to its tweeds and two-tone shoes.


Women hold white roses as they arrive outside the Chanel fashion boutique after news that German haute-couture designer Karl Lagerfeld, artistic director at Chanel and an icon of the global fashion industry for over half a century, has died, aged 85, in Paris, France, February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau
People hold white roses as they stand outside the Chanel fashion boutique after news that German haute-couture designer Karl Lagerfeld, artistic director at Chanel and an icon of the global fashion industry for over half a century, has died, aged 85, in Paris, France, February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

“Thanks to his creative genius, generosity and exceptional intuition, Karl Lagerfeld was ahead of his time, which widely contributed to the House of Chanel’s success throughout the world,” Wertheimer said in a statement.

A true craftsman who combined artistic instinct, business acumen and commensurate ego, Lagerfeld was known for his strikingly visual fashion show displays.

FILE PHOTO – German designer Karl Lagerfeld appears on the catwalk after his Autumn/Winter 2004/2005 high fashion collection for the Chanel fashion house in Paris, July 7, 2004. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

LVMH chairman and chief executive Bernard Arnault said the fashion world had lost a creative genius who helped make Paris the fashion capital of the world, and Fendi one of the most innovative Italian houses.

“I will always remember his immense imagination, his ability to conceive new trends for every season, his inexhaustible energy, the virtuosity of his drawings, his carefully guarded independence, his encyclopedic culture and his unique wit and eloquence,” Arnault said.

Born in Hamburg in 1933, Lagerfeld made his debut with designer Pierre Balmain as an apprentice before moving on to Patou and Chloe and then Italian brand Fendi.

“KAISER KARL”

But it was after he joined French fashion house Chanel in 1983 that he gained rock-star status, credited with helping jazz up the label founded by Coco Chanel in 1910 and attracting younger clients.

On Jan. 22, Chanel hosted guests in a mocked-up Mediterranean garden for its haute-couture show. In a collection inspired by Lagerfeld’s favourite period, the eighteenth century, feathers adorned new twists on the brand’s classic tweed suits, which came with ankle length or fishtail skirts.

Tributes poured in from around the world for the man affectionately nicknamed “Kaiser Karl” and “Fashion Meister”.

Britain’s Victoria Beckham wrote on Instagram: “So incredibly sad to hear this. Karl was a genius and always so kind and generous to me both personally and professionally.”

Italian fashion designer Donatella Versace, sister of the late Gianni Versace and chief designer of the Versace group, wrote: “Karl your genius touched the lives of so many, especially Gianni and I. We will never forget your incredible talent and endless inspiration. We were always learning from you.”

Chanel said Virginie Viard, deputy artistic director of Chanel, would take over creative work for the brand’s collections.

French celebrity online magazine Purepeople said Lagerfeld died on Tuesday morning after being taken to hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine just outside Paris the night before.

Virginie Viard, deputy artistic director of Chanel, will become chief designer of the fashion house following the death of haute couture icon Karl Lagerfeld, a source at Chanel said on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Richard Lough and Pascale Denis; additional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris and Marie-Louise Gumuchian in Milan; writing by Richard Lough & Luke Baker; Editing by Janet Lawrence & Richard Lough )