He was eccentric, audacious and multi-faceted. His name will forever remain an icon, his signature – equal to style. He took fashion as an art that expressed the spirit of its time. He manged to provoke, to defend his point of view publicly and to do whatever he wanted at the exact proper time. He made art and he crowned it with eternity. He was Karl Lagerfeld! The designer, the photographer, the collector… the person! The Keiser often expressed his disdain for nostalgia in all its shapes, so we deeply hope that he will forgive us for that fact that today we are about to be nostalgic and, with a healthy mixture of joy and sadness, we are going back to the time of “Karl for Ever” in order to symbolically mark his birthday.


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The birth of a legend

Karl Lagerfeld was born in Hamburg. On the 10th of September 1938. Probably! Why probably? Well, because many things from Lagerfeld’s private life remained secret. One of them was namely his birthday, which he disliked frankly. The date is for sure – the tenth day of the first autumn month, the year, however – uncertain. According to most sources, Karl was born in 1933, others claim that the year is 1935, while Karl himself always insisted that he was born in 1938. Where is the truth? Perhaps like Karl himself might have said, “Somewhere in between!”

 And no, the year is not the only thing that the designer (probably) chose to change. If you have ever wondered whether Lagerfeld is spelled with a ‘t’ or ‘d’ at the end, then we are in a hurry to tell you – with both. Lagerfeldt! Or at least it was like that at the beginning. Later on, the already well-known Karl Otto Lagerfeldt removed the last letter of his family name because he claimed that this way his name was more appealing from a purely commercial point of view and it was much easier to write.


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Karl before Lagerfeld

Even though we can’t specifically point to the year, Lagerfeld is known to have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His father Otto was a condensed milk producer and his mother Elisabeth – a violinist. Here, a question might arise: did Karl inherit his mother’s talent? And the answer is… no!Fortunately, Elisabeth Lagerfeldt was convinced of the fact that her son wasn’t going to become a musician (he refused to learn to play the piano) early enough and she left him draw, at least “he made less noise with the pencil than with the piano keys”. 

 Lagerfeld himself described his childhood as a sad and quite painful experience namely because of the endless guidance of his rigorous mother. He was a talented student, but a very shy and unsociable kid. He didn’t like playing with the other kids because everyone seemed terrible to him. What he did every day was read books, learn languages and draw. Draw a lot! His only dream was to grow up faster.

The future designer’s interests in life took a shift when he was 14 years old and moved together with his family to Paris. The French capital is the perfect environment where young Karl could unleash his talent and potential as an artist. And he did so! The first step was the artistic Lycée Montaigne, and the second one – a design competition. Lagerfeldgot a prize for the design of the perfect coat. This was great distinction, but Lagerfeld admitted that this category was his least favourite. In fact, even back then he liked making “little black dresses”. The prize for the best dress design in the same competition was then won by Yves Saint Laurent. Either way, however, the prize is a fact and this granted Karl Lagerfeld the opportunity to do an apprenticeship at Pierre Balmain’s fashion studio. An exceptionally good start, undoubtedly!


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Paris is always a good idea

Quite expectedly, Karl’s life in Paris took an entirely new direction. The one he had been dreaming about! He grew up and turned drawing into a profession. The opportunity to be an assistant at the studio of one of the most famous designers then, Pierre Balmain, gave him a lot in all possible ways, but also disappointed him as much, because young Lagerfeld faced the backstage trickery of fashion business. Luckily, he didn’t give up, or else the fashion (and whole other) world would have lost a lot! Three years after the first steps which he made at Balmain’s, Karl Lagerfeld moved to work in the house of Jean Patou, where he created two haute couture collections each year for the period of five years. Then he quit and… no, he still didn’t give up, he simply decided to explore the market. This gave him the opportunity to work for Chloé 1962, while in 1972 he started his long-term partnership with Fendi. Yes, he was restless but this was not all. In the meantime, he was making collections for Max Mara, Valentino and Japanese brand Isetan, shoes for Charles Jourdan, sweaters for Ballantine and he was also a fashion advisor to Trevira. Where so much inspiration from? Well, this is Karl!

Two legends… together

Thanks to his work with different fashion houses, in 1983 he had already gained considerable experience as a creative director and exactly because of this the Wertheimer company offered him to head one legendary French fashion house that was then in complete ruin, but had to, at all costs, be reborn. Karl Lagerfeld took up the challenge mainly guided by his curiosity and without a particularly clear idea what was going to happen, but with the confidence that it was going to happen! This was the fashion house of Chanel, and the condition that it was in – much further from our ideas about Chanel today! Quite expectedly, the designer managed to achieve the impossible: he revived the cult in tweed suits, re-set the trend of the recognisable black-and-white combo, breathed new life to the iconic bags and added a lot of new items that were avant-garde both for the brand and for the time. To put it in other words, Lagerfeld didn’t just honourably succeed the great Coco Chanel, but he also gave his own personal look to the empire of Chanel, following his great purpose “to make something new, and not change the old”. Because Karl insists existing in the present! And he worked magic… for 36 years on end!


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The world according to Karl

Besides for his unmatched sense of style and fashion, Karl Lagerfeld was also known for his audacity, fiery temper and unforgiving comments. One of the greatest aesthetes of our time was never afraid of criticising. Directly and without any restraint! He was the man who said to Angela Merkel that her trousers and jackets were horrible, criticised Adele for her overly conservative dresses, denied Michelle Obama’s good taste after choosing a particular hairstyle, but also praised Kate Middleton for her inherent romantic grace. Karl insisted on the truth and he was outspoken about it, no matter whether it was pleasant to hear or not. And before you decide that he was one of the most hated people in the world for his audacity – no, he wasn’t. People appreciate directness, especially coming from a person like Lagerfeld himself!


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The legend Lagerfeld

We knew Karl Lagerfeld in the world of fashion, we partially knew his personality, but did we know his true self? Not particularly! Outside of his professional life, the great Keiser was close to a select few. He insisted on his private life remaining exactly what it was – private. This, of course, did not stop people from turning rumours into myths, and to a large extend it actually helped them. Such as the myth, for example, that Lagerfeld slept for an exact 7 hours every evening – not more, not less, and always with a long white shirt made of poplin especially for him. Or that he was able to draw 200 sketches for less than 12 hours, or he read 20 newspapers in different languages every day. What of all this was true is probably known to only those select few that Karl Lagerfeld let closer. Most of all those legends, however, only serve to prove one thing – he was a genius!

Books, sketches and a trash bin

Confirmed by the Keiser himself, however, was the fact that he was an avid fan of books. And his personal library testifies this with more than 300,000 printed volumes. No, there was no mistake with the number of zeros, this really is the number of books in Lagerfeld’s home – three hundred thousand. It sounds (and it probably looks) impressive! Having in mind this fact, we might be misled to believe that the most important part of his home was the library. But no, it wasn’t. Neither was his desk, nor his wardrobe, not even the bed. Karl Lagerfeld admitted on many occasions that the most important part in his home was… the trash bin. Why? How is this even possible? No way!… Well, it is quite possible as this is the exact place where all of his sketches, studies, photographs, old clothes and accessories, and all sorts of other things went, because the Keiser threw away everything he decided had accomplished its purpose. ‘Strange’ is what a lot of people would probably call him. And he might have been, but this is typical for great minds.


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A fluffy love

When we talk about the most important things in his life, we can’t miss perhaps the most significant living creature that could genuinely touch Karl Lagerfeld’s heart – his cat. There is hardly a fashion enthusiast who hasn’t heard of Choupette Lagerfeld. She is famous. Very famous!

Choupette ended up the home of the legendary designer after her previous owner model Baptiste Giabiconi left on a long holiday and asked Lagerfeld to take care of the furry ball. When he came back from his trip, Giabiconi heard, “I’m sorry, but she stays with me!”. And she really stayed! And became a princess, of course. A white fluffy princess that only feeds on gourmet food from a fine porcelain tray and not always on the floor. In fact, usually on the table, next to Lagerfeld.

Was she spoilt? We are only going to mention that she dines on a table, sleeps on a pillow and uses iPad… she is probably a little spoilt. But just a little! After all, this is Karl Lagerfeld’s cat!


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Karl for Ever

Karl Lagerfeld says of himself: “I am very much down to earth. Just not this earth.” And really, he wasn’t down-to-earth, he was airy, elevated, different and bold. We were used to taking his contracts with Fendi and Chanel for life-long, to the fact that he was an inseparable part of these fashion houses and no one even dared think of a world without Karl. We not only had to think of this, however, but we also had to find out that it exists. On the 19th of February 2019 Karl Lagerfeld lost the battle with pancreas cancer and the world lost the designer of designers.

For his birthday this year, without knowing exactly how old he was going to be, we dare not measure the time we have spent in a world without Karl, but we know that this world is a little bit emptier. And it will always be! Even though Lagerfeld will continue to somehow be a part of the shows of the brands that he headed, he won’t come to greet the audience after them, but he will always hear the applause, which will be for him as well. And we… we will continue quoting him, talking about him, learning from what he left behind, telling his story, remembering him and loving… him, fashion, art and life!

 Text: Annie Georgieva

Photos: Instagram

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