Karl Lagerfeld has died at age 85, Chanel confirmed on Tuesday, February 19. A cause of death wasn’t immediately announced.
The artistic director for Chanel was noticeably absent from the French fashion house’s spring-summer 2019 haute couture show at the Grand Palais in Paris on January 22. It was said at the time that he wasn’t feeling well enough to attend.
As one of the most notable designers of both the 20th and 21st centuries, the German native arrived in Paris as a teenager. In 1954, he won the coat category at the International Wool Secretariat and officially began his career a year later as Pierre Balmain’s assistant in 1955.
He was appointed creative director of Italian luxury table Fendi in 1965 and took over the reigns at Chanel as well in 1983. His 36 years at the brand was record-breaking. He also did freelance work at Jean Patou, Krizia, Ballantyne, Charles Jourdan and Chloé, but his work transcended high-fashion.
As the New York Times reported, the designer was still creating upwards of 14 collections a year spanning from high street to couture even as his contemporaries scaled back and retired.
In addition to his positions at Fendi and Chanel, Lagerfeld had his own eponymous ready-to-wear line. He collaborated with Kaia Gerber in fall 2018 on a modern capsule of athleisure, platform sneakers and more. And then, of course, there was his signature dark suits and silver ponytail that made him instantly recognizable and a brand in his own right.
But his prolific career wasn’t without controversy. In 2013, he came under fire for comments he made about Adele’s weight — calling the singer “a little too fat” and “roundish” before apologizing. He later criticized Pippa Middleton’s appearance when he said she “should only show her back.”
After Kim Kardashian’s Paris robbery in 2016, Lagerfeld told Reuters that celebrities “cannot display your wealth and then be surprised that some people want to share it with you.” He also went toe-to-toe with Meryl Streep in 2017 when he claimed the Oscar-nominee refused to wear a dress he sketched for her to the Academy Awards because she preferred to be paid by a brand. Streep vehemently denied the accusation.
His mark on fashion, however, is incontrovertible. On Instagram, French Vogue remembered the maestro as a “visionary” and “self-taught master.”
“He was a liberated and creative spirit who followed only his instincts, which never failed him. Rare are those who succeed in infusing such imagination and panache into their work,” the magazine wrote. “The icon will be remembered for his formidable humor, his talent for mastering languages other than fashion and for being a straight talker. ‘I do not want to be a reality in the lives of others,’ he once said, ‘I want to be like an apparition, that appears and then disappears.'”
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