Getty ImagesStephane Cardinale – Corbis
Karl Lagerfeld, one of the most influential fashion designers to shape the industry, has died at 85. Prolific in every sense of the word, Lagerfeld designed for three brands—Chanel, Fendi and his namesake label—branching out into photography and hospitality.
If every person has one detail that unlocks their mythology, for Karl Lagerfeld it was the way he read books. For every new page he’d finish, he’d tear it out. It wasn’t a sign of a disrespect for the written word—Lagerfeld was a book collector and maintained his own imprint, 7L. Rather, it was symbolic of his relentless quest for newness. When you’ve been working for more than half a century, it’s easy to ossify into the same habits, but Lagerfeld was always looking around the corner, at what was next—whether it was the next “It” Apple product, the next “It” girl, or a brand-new inspiration. For someone with reverence for the old-fashioned (hand-drawn pastel sketches, classical music, rococo fans) he lived resolutely in the present, and he was inexorably drawn to the future.
And he continued working, and looking ahead, right up to the end. According to WWD, he gave his design team at Fendi instructions for the fall-winter 2019 collection, set to show as planned during Milan Fashion Week this Thursday.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Lagerfeld put an indelible stamp on fashion, from his floaty, feminine vision for Chloé, his logo-rific work at Fendi (he designed the iconic double-F logo!) and, of course, his Chanel shows that transported us everywhere from a supermarket to an airport terminal to a glamorous data center.
But beyond his runway omnipresence, he was also early to catch each new wave of fashion—mass-market collaborations (his collab with H&M in 2004 marked the first linkup between the retailer and a designer), social media (his cat Choupette has racked up over 116k Instagram followers) and our golden age of non-verbal communication (he launched his own emojis in 2014.) He grasped “branding” early on: his snow-white ponytail, shades, stiff collar, and fingerless gloves were enough of a semaphore to make him identifiable from miles away.
And he was generous. When Lagerfeld took a fancy to someone and they joined his jet-setting Chanel crew—whether it was a budding star, or his beloved Choupette-he celebrated them. In the pages of ELLE, he relaxed with Nicki Minaj and gathered together some of his intimates—including model Joan Smalls, Chanel studio director Virginie Viard, and classical violinist Charlie Siem—for a group portrait in our December issue. Perhaps that inclusivity was the most modern thing about him, and in keeping with ELLE’s mission to make fashion accessible and fun. As he told us this past fall, “Moving forward, changing and enticing. That’s what fashion is about!”