Karl Lagerfeld passes away: Fashion icon was creative force behind Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, Fendi designer labels

February 19, 2019

by Yvette Thomas

Karl Lagerfeld
Karl Lagerfeld (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

Karl Lagerfeld—the iconic fashion designer who was the longtime creative force behind Chanel, Fendi, Chloé and his own Karl Lagerfeld Paris label—died at the American Hospital of Paris in the Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine on February 19, 2019. The cause of death has not yet been officially revealed, but several media outlets are reporting that he had pancreatic cancer. Although his age at the time of his death has been widely reported as 85, the Associated Press reports that Lagerfeld had two birth certificates—one that lists his birth year as 1933 and the other as 1938—and it has not been verified which one is authentic.

Karl Lagerfeld
Karl Lagerfeld and Nicki Minaj in Elle’s July 2018 issue (Photo by Karl Lagerfeld)

What is known for sure is that Lagerfeld was born in Hamburg, Germany, to a successful industrialist father and a violinist mother. He went to school in Paris, and apprenticed at Balmain before joining Patou in 1965. Lagerfeld joined Fendi in 1965, and later became the Italian design company’s creative director. He then made his mark at French label Chloe, followed by his career high point as creative director of the legendary Chanel company, beginning in 1983.

Lagerfeld started his own eponymous fashion label (Karl Largerfeld Paris) in 1984, and remained its creative director after it was sold to the Tommy Hilfiger Company in 2005. In addition to being a fashion designer and entrepreneur, Lagerfeld was an author and photographer. At the height of his fame, he became known for his eccentric personal fashion style, which included wearing a ponytail, mostly black clothes and always wearing sunglasses and gloves in public. Even though he was widely admired in the fashion world, Lagerfeld also had his share of critics and made statements that were considered racially or culturally offensive. In August 2018, the New York Times published a blistering critique of Lagerfeld that questioned why more people weren’t boycotting his work because of offensive comments he has made over the years.

Lagerfeld, who was openly gay, never married and did not have children. However, he famously treated his Birman cat called Choupette as if she were a human child. Lagerfeld’s health had been the subject of speculation after he did not take his traditional final bow at Chanel’s fashion show in Paris on January 22, 2019.  Chanel’s studio director Virginie Viard walked in Lagerfeld’s place instead. Chanel announced after Lagerfeld’s death that Viard has been promoted and will replace him at Chanel. Fendi and Karl Lagerfeld Paris have not yet announced who will replace Lagerfeld at their respective companies. Lagerfled’s last Fendi collection will be shown in Milan, Italy, on February 21, 2019.

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