By now, you are probably already dusting the Karl Lagerfeld superlatives off your shoulder pads, and shaking the posthumous hagiography pouring in from every fashion and news website off your designer laps. You can probably recite all of his achievements by the chapters and a biopic must surely already be in the works. (Glenn Close in a powdered ponytail as Kaiser Karl, anyone?). But here are some points you might have missed in the fog of dry shampoo.
No one actually knew a whole lot about the real Karl Lagerfeld. Even his age was a matter of some dispute—the German fashion designer, who died in Paris on February 19, was said to be 85 years old, but his chronological age was never confirmed. Even the conditions of his illness and death were glossed over. Tellingly, no account of his last hours has surfaced, as is wont with people of his stature.
An icon of his own invention, Lagerfeld had constructed a glittering and impenetrable edifice ceaselessly honed over five decades in fashion, starting in the 1960s when he first started working at Chloé. Through media omnipresence, the Lagerfeld avatar had wormed its way into everyone’s minds beyond the fashion industry, making him a global icon.
Lagerfeld was so starkly drawn that he was like an emoji. Think armour plate‑like dark glasses swept over a wide mouth; white powdered ponytail joined to stiff white collar; strictly‑tailored black coat with narrow sleeves ending in fingerless gloves; and heavy Chrome Hearts rings. In the 1980s and ’90s, he didn’t wear gloves, but fluttered a fan. So recognisable was this caricature that Fendi made the Karlito bag charms, which remain hugely sellable.
We think of Lagerfeld as a silhouette, which appeared on everything from tees to Diet Coke cans. We do not reflect on how this image was painstakingly assembled, much like how Chanel’s mega shows at Paris’ Grand Palais, with icebergs and rockets, and waterfalls and gardens, were mounted—through sheer force of will, an army of enablers, military precision, limitless resources, discipline and vision.