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Karl Otto Lagerfeld (10 September 1933 – 19 February 2019) was a German creative director, fashion designer, artist, photographer and caricaturist who lived in Paris.[8][9] He was known as the creative director of the French fashion house Chanel, a position he held from 1983 until his death, and was also creative director of the Italian fur and leather goods fashion house Fendi, and of his own eponymous fashion label. He collaborated on a variety of fashion and art-related projects. He was recognized for his signature white hair, black sunglasses, fingerless gloves, and high, starched detachable collars.[10]

Karl Lagerfeld
Karl Lagerfeld 2014.jpg
Karl Lagerfeld in 2014
Karl Otto Lagerfeldt

(1933-09-10)10 September 1933
Died19 February 2019(2019-02-19) (aged 85)
EducationSt. Annes School
Signature Karl Lagerfeld.jpg


Early life

Lagerfeld was born on 10 September 1933 in Hamburg, to Elizabeth (née Bahlmann; 1897–1978) and businessman Otto Lagerfeld (1881–1967).[11] His father owned a company that produced and imported evaporated milk; while his maternal grandfather, Karl Bahlmann, was a local politician for the Catholic Centre Party.[11] His family belonged to the Old Catholic Church. When Lagerfeld's mother met his father, she was a lingerie saleswoman from Berlin. His parents married in 1930.[12]

Lagerfeld was known to misrepresent his birth year, claiming to be younger than his actual age, and to misrepresent his parents' background. For example, he claimed that he was born in 1938 to "Elisabeth of Germany" and Otto Ludwig Lagerfeldt from Sweden,[13] although these claims have been conclusively proven to be entirely wrong, as his father was from Hamburg and spent his entire life in Germany, with no Swedish connection whatsoever.[11][12] There is also no evidence that his mother Elisabeth Bahlmann, the daughter of a middle-class local politician, called herself "Elisabeth of Germany."[12] He was known to insist that no one knows his real birth date. In an interview on French television in February 2009, Lagerfeld said that he was "born neither in 1933 nor 1938."[14]

In April 2013, he finally declared that he was born in 1935.[15] A birth announcement was, however, published by his parents in 1933, and the baptismal register in Hamburg also lists him as born in that year, conclusively proving that he was born on 10 September 1933.[16] Bild am Sonntag published his baptismal records in 2008 and interviewed his teacher and a classmate, who both confirmed that he was born in 1933. Despite that, Karl Lagerfeld announced publicly that he was celebrating his "70th birthday" on 10 September 2008, despite actually turning 75.[17][18][19]

His older sister, Martha Christiane "Christel", was born in 1931. Lagerfeld had an older half-sister, Thea, from his father's first marriage. His family name has been spelled both Lagerfeldt (with a "t") and Lagerfeld. Like his father, he used the spelling Lagerfeld, considering it to "sound more commercial."[20]

His family was mainly shielded from the deprivations of World War II due to his father's business interests in Germany through the firm Glücksklee-Milch GmbH.[21][22] His father had been in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake.[23]

After attending a private school, Lagerfeld finished his secondary school at the Lycée Montaigne in Paris, where he majored in drawing and history.[24]


Early career and Fendi (1955–1982)

In 1955, after living in Paris for two years, Lagerfeld entered a coat design competition sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat at the age of sixteen. He won the competition and befriended Yves Saint Laurent, and was soon after hired by Pierre Balmain. He worked as Balmain's assistant, and later apprentice, for three years.[25][26]

In 1958, Lagerfeld became the artistic director for Jean Patou. In 1964, he went to Rome to study art history and work for Tiziano, but was soon designing freelance for a multitude of brands including Chloé, Charles Jourdan, Krizia, and Valentino.[27]

In 1967, he was hired by Fendi to modernize their fur line. Lagerfeld's innovative designed proved groundbreaking, as he introduced the use of mole, rabbit, and squirrel pelts into high fashion. Lagerfeld remained with Fendi until his death.[27]

International fame with Chanel (1982–2000)

Lagerfeld is credited with making great use of Chanel's "CC" logo during the 1980s.[27]

In the 1980s, Lagerfeld was hired by Chanel, which was considered a "near-dead brand" at the time since the death of designer Coco Chanel a decade prior. Lagerfeld brought life back into the company, making it a huge success by revamping its ready-to-wear fashion line.[25][4] Lagerfeld integrated the interlocked "CC" monograph of Coco Chanel into a style pattern for the House of Chanel.[28][27]

In 1984, a year after his start at Chanel, Lagerfeld began his own eponymous "Karl Lagerfeld" brand. The brand was established to channel "intellectual sexiness".[4]

In 1993, US Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour walked out of his Milan Fashion Week runway show, when he employed strippers and adult-film star Moana Pozzi to model his black-and-white collection for Fendi.[29]

There was much controversy from Lagerfeld's use of a verse from the Qur'an in his spring 1994 couture collection for Chanel, despite apologies from the designer and the fashion house. The controversy erupted after the 1994 couture show in Paris, when the Indonesian Muslim Scholars Council in Jakarta called for a boycott of Chanel and threatened to file formal protests with the government of Lagerfeld's homeland, Germany. The designer apologized, explaining that he had taken the design from a book about the Taj Mahal, thinking the words came from a love poem.[30]

Later career (2001–2019)

Lagerfeld was the target of a pieing by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in 2001 at a fashion premiere at Lincoln Center in New York City. However, the tofu pies hurled by animal rights activists in protest against his use of fur within his collections went astray, instead hitting Calvin Klein. A PETA spokesperson described the hit on Klein as "friendly fire", calling Klein, who doesn't use fur, "a great friend to the animals" and Lagerfeld a "designer dinosaur", who continues to use fur in his collections.[31]

In 2002, Lagerfeld asked Renzo Rosso, the founder of Diesel, to collaborate with him on a special denim collection for the Lagerfeld Gallery.[32] The collection, Lagerfeld Gallery by Diesel, was co-designed by Lagerfeld and then developed by Diesel's creative team, under the supervision of Rosso. It consisted of five pieces that were presented during the designer's catwalk shows during Paris Fashion Week[33] and then sold in highly limited editions at the Lagerfeld Galleries in Paris and Monaco and at the Diesel Denim Galleries in New York and Tokyo. During the first week of sales in New York, more than 90% of the trousers were sold out, even though prices ranged from $240 to $1,840.[34] In a statement after the show in Paris, Rosso said: "I am honored to have met this fashion icon of our time. Karl represents creativity, tradition and challenge, and the fact that he thought of Diesel for this collaboration is a great gift and acknowledgement of our reputation as the prêt-à-porter of casual wear."[33]

Lagerfeld at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival

In December 2006, Lagerfeld announced the launch of a new collection for men and women dubbed K Karl Lagerfeld, which included fitted T-shirts and a wide range of jeans.[35]

Lagerfeld and investments enterprise Dubai Infinity Holdings (DIH) signed a deal to design limited edition homes on the island of Isla Moda.[36][37] A feature-length documentary film on the designer, Lagerfeld Confidential, was made by Vogue in 2007. Later in the year, Lagerfeld was made the host of the fictional radio station K109—the studio in the video game Grand Theft Auto IV.[38]

In 2008, he created a teddy bear in his likeness produced by Steiff in an edition of 2,500 that sold for $1,500.[39] and has been immortalized in many forms, which include pins, shirts, dolls, and more. In 2009, Tra Tutti began selling Karl Lagermouse and Karl Lagerfelt, which are mini-Lagerfelds in the forms of mice and finger puppets, respectively.[40]. The same year, he lend his voice in the French animated film, Totally Spies! The Movie.[41]

Lagerfeld was a supporter of the use of fur in fashion. He himself did not wear fur and hardly ate meat. In a BBC interview in 2009, he claimed that hunters "make a living having learnt nothing else than hunting, killing those beasts who would kill us if they could" and maintained: "In a meat-eating world, wearing leather for shoes and clothes and even handbags, the discussion of fur is childish." Spokespersons for PETA called Lagerfeld "a fashion dinosaur who is as out of step as his furs are out of style",[42] and "particularly delusional with his kill-or-be-killed mentality. When was the last time a person's life was threatened by a mink or rabbit?"[43]

Lagerfeld in 2009 joined critics of supermodel Heidi Klum; following German designer Wolfgang Joop remarked of Klum, who had posed naked on the cover of the German edition of GQ magazine, as being[44] "no runway model. She is simply too heavy and has too big a bust,"[45] Lagerfeld retorted that neither he nor Claudia Schiffer knew Klum as she has never worked in Paris and is insignificant in the world of high fashion, being "more bling bling and glamorous than current fashion."[46]

Lagerfeld with Hermann Bühlbecker, Prince Albert II and Charlene, Princess of Monaco (2011)

In 2010, PETA cited Lagerfeld, who used fake fur in his 2010 Chanel collection, on its website as saying: "It's the triumph of fake fur… because fake fur changed so much and became so great now that you can hardly see a difference."[47] In September 2010, the Couture Council of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology presented Lagerfeld with an award created for him, The Couture Council Fashion Visionary Award, at a benefit luncheon at Avery Fisher Hall, in New York City.[48] In November 2010, Lagerfeld and Swedish crystal manufacturer Orrefors announced a collaboration to design a crystal art collection.[49] The first collection was launched in spring 2011, called Orrefors by Karl Lagerfeld.[50]

A spread with pictures inside Lagerfeld's apartment in Paris was published in the French issue of Architectural Digest in May 2012.[51] He also revealed his vast collection of Suzanne Belperron's pins and brooches and used the color of one of her blue chalcedony rings as the starting point for the Chanel spring/summer 2012 collection.[52]

Lagerfeld created an international furore on 9 February 2012, when he called the singer Adele "a little too fat."[53] This caused instant fury throughout the United Kingdom, and Lagerfeld responded with a statement of apology. Adele hit back by saying she is like the majority of women, and she is very proud of that fact.[54][55] Lagerfeld later caused another controversy, on 31 July 2012, when he criticized Pippa Middleton, the sister of Kate Middleton, for her looks. The comment was made when Lagerfeld was praising Kate Middleton, for her "romantic beauty" before adding: "I don't like the sister's face. She should only show her back."[56][57][58]

In 2013, he directed the short film Once Upon a Time... in the Cité du Cinéma, Saint-Denis, by Luc Besson, featuring Keira Knightley in the role of Coco Chanel and Clotilde Hesme as her aunt Adrienne Chanel.[59] In 2014, an auction house in Florida announced that many of Lagerfeld's early sketches for the House of Tiziani in Rome would be sold.[60][61] In June 2016, it was announced that Lagerfeld would design the two residential lobbies of the Estates at Acqualina, a residential development in Miami's Sunny Isles Beach.[62]

In October 2018, Lagerfeld in collaboration with Carpenters Workshop Gallery launched an art collection of functional sculptures titled Architectures. Sculptures were made of Arabescato Fantastico, a rare vibrant white marble with dark gray veins and black Nero Marquina marble with milky veins. Inspired by antiquity and referred to as modern mythology the ensemble consists of gueridons, tables, lamps, consoles, fountains and mirrors.[63]

Personal life

Lagerfeld lived in numerous homes over the years: an apartment in the rue de l'Université in Paris, decorated in the Art Deco style (1970s); the 18th-century Chateau de Penhoët in Brittany, decorated in the Rococo style (1970s to 2000); an apartment in Monte Carlo decorated until 2000 in 1980s Memphis style (from the early 1980s); the Villa Jako in Blankenese in Hamburg, decorated in the Art Deco style (mid-1990s to 2000); the Villa La Vigie in Monaco (the 1990s to 2000), a 17th-century mansion (hôtel particulier) in the Rue de l'Université in Paris, decorated in the Rococo and other styles (1980s to the 2000s); an apartment in Manhattan, although he never moved into or decorated it (2006 to 2012); the summer villa El Horria in Biarritz, decorated in the modern style (1990s–2006); and a house dating from the 1840s in Vermont (from the 2000s). From 2007, Lagerfeld owned an 1820s house in Paris in Quai Voltaire decorated in modern and Art Deco style.[30]

Lagerfeld owned a red point Birman cat named Choupette, which, in June 2013, he indicated he would marry, if it were legal.[64]

Weight loss

Lagerfeld lost 42 kg (93 lb) in 2001. He explained: "I suddenly wanted to dress differently, to wear clothes designed by Hedi Slimane.... But these fashions, modeled by very, very slim boys—and not men my age—required me to lose at least 40 kg. It took me exactly 13 months." The diet was created specially for him by Dr. Jean-Claude Houdret [fr], which led to a book called The Karl Lagerfeld Diet. He promoted it on Larry King Live and other television shows.[20]


Following health complications in January 2019, Lagerfeld was admitted to the American Hospital of Paris in Parisian suburb Neuilly-sur-Seine on 18 February. The next morning, he died at that hospital, aged 85.[65] The cause of death has not been disclosed.[66][67]


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