The fashion world was plunged into mourning yesterday by the death of legendary designer Karl Lagerfeld, the rapier-witted dandy who ruled over the industry for half a century.
Chanel, the iconic French fashion house he led for nearly four decades, confirmed his passing at the age of 85, prompting an unprecedented outpouring of emotion from designers and celebrities.
Speculation about the state of health of the man they called the “Kaiser” had been rife since he missed Chanel’s Paris haute couture week show last month, with the world’s richest brand saying that he “was tired”.
Lagerfeld left many younger creators in the dust well into his 80s, turning out collections season after season for Fendi and his own label, as well as Chanel – the world’s richest brand.
With his powdered white pony tail, black sunglasses and starched high-collared white shirts, Lagerfeld was as instantly recognisable as his celebrity clients.
Lagerfeld’s friend, supermodel Linda Evangelista, said she was heartbroken, calling him the “great love of my life”.
In recent years the prolific German had visibly weakened, even if his extraordinary creative stamina showed little sign of flagging on the catwalk for the three brands he led.
Friends had always said that the creator would die with a pencil in his hand, and just last week his own fashion line Karl Lagerfeld was still announcing new design collaborations.
However, speculation about his health spiralled last month after he missed the first show of his life, with Chanel executives saying that he “was tired this morning”.
Chanel said the reins of the $12.7bn brand had been handed to Lagerfeld’s right-hand woman, his head of studio Virginie Viard.
The designer invited Viard on to the podium with him at the end of two Chanel shows last year to acknowledge how much he relied on a woman he called “my right and left hand”.
Italian designer Donatella Versace led the tributes among fashion’s leading players as news of Lagerfeld’s death broke.
“Karl, your genius touched the lives of so many, especially Gianni and I,” she wrote on Instagram, referring to her murdered brother who founded her brand. “We will never forget your incredible talent and endless inspiration. We were always learning from you.”
Bernard Arnault, the most powerful man in fashion and owner of the luxury giant LVMH, said he was “infinitely saddened” by the loss of a “very dear friend” and a “creative genius”.
“Fashion and culture have lost a major inspiration. He contributed to making Paris the fashion capital of the world and Fendi one of the most innovative of Italian brands,” the billionaire said.
The singer and former French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who worked as a model for Lagerfeld, wrote a touching tribute to her former mentor on Instagram.
“Thank you for all the sparkles.... thank you for bringing beauty and lightness in our world, so much colour in the darkness, so much wit in our dull days... The whole world and I will miss you.”
In an equally emotional tribute, actress and model Diane Kruger said that she was not able to get to his bedside in time.
“I cannot tell you how much you meant to me and how much I will miss you,” the German star wrote on Instagram.
“I will never forget your kindness towards me, your laughs, your imagination. I came to France to see you this week and introduce you to my daughter... I’m heartbroken I was too late,” she said. “Rest in peace, I adore you.”
Actress Keira Knightley, who starred in the campaign for Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle perfume, described him as “a legend both as a man and a creative force”.
British pop star turned fashion designer Victoria Beckham called Lagerfeld “a genius”, a description that was ever-present.
He was “always so kind and generous to me both personally and professionally. RIP,” the former Spice Girl added.
Fellow British designer, writer and model Alexa Chung said she was “so scared” when she first met the designer, but Lagerfeld was “incredibly witty and generous”.
“Thank you for inviting me to some of the most glamorous experiences of my life. And thanks for the dry shampoo tip.
Will always think of you as I powder my wig,” she joked on Instagram, echoing the designer’s own love of repartee.
Politicians also queued up to pay tribute to the designer.
“Karl Lagerfeld is an immense personality, someone out of the ordinary,” French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told RTL radio.
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 Fendi.
“He was one of the most influential and celebrated designers of the 21st century and an iconic, universal symbol of style,” his own Karl Lagerfeld brand wrote on Instagram. “He leaves behind an extraordinary legacy as one of the greatest designers of our time.”
Fendi said it would go ahead as planned with a Milan fashion show of Lagerfeld’s latest line for the brand tomorrow.
“The House of Fendi is in deep mourning following the death of Karl Lagerfeld, who left his mark and genius with us for more than five decades,” it said. “Now is not the time to discuss his succession. We intend to take the time to honour his life and pay him the tribute he deserves.”
It was after he joined French fashion house Chanel in 1983 that Lagerfeld gained rock-star status, credited with helping jazz up the label founded by Coco Chanel in 1910 and attracting younger clients.
He was known for staging lavish shows, building Chanel catwalks amid replicas of a supermarket, casino and even an airport terminal.
On January 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 18th century, feathers adorned new twists on the brand’s classic tweed suits, which came with ankle length or fishtail skirts.
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