"I am like a caricature of myself, and I like that. It is like a mask. And for me, the Carnival of Venice lasts all year long." – Karl Lagerfeld, British Vogue
On Feb. 19, Karl Lagerfeld passed away at age 85 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. Although his cause of death is still relatively unknown, it is believed that the fashion icon was quietly battling pancreatic cancer in his last months. To say Karl Lagerfeld lived a full life is an understatement, as his eccentric and controversial persona transformed the fashion industry and made him a world-class trendsetter. He also came under fire multiple times in his career for his statements conveying body-shaming and discrimination towards Muslim migrants. From Chanel to controversy, Karl Lagerfeld will be undoubtedly remembered.
Lagerfeld was born in 1933 in Hamburg, Germany. His emergence into the fashion world began at age 22 as an assistant to Pierre Balmain, but his influence began with his career at Chanel. In 1983, Lagerfeld joined the Chanel house and promptly reinvented the luxury brand over his 36-year tenure there. He became the new sunglasses-clad face of Chanel, in addition to securing prominent design positions at Fendi and Chloe. In the meantime, with his unique style and manner, he also made progress crafting his own “eponymous brand.” Lagerfeld was branding himself in the process with his leather gloves, signature white ponytail and dark, intimidating sunglasses. His style became an emblem of his eccentricity and put him on the map as an individual as well as a designer. Lagerfeld’s designs made Chanel back into a billion-dollar brand, while his personal style made him memorable to designers already in the game.
Despite his wild success, Lagerfeld stood out as well for his controversial views on body image. Lagerfeld did not agree with the body-positive campaign that many fashion brands have gotten on board with and even proclaimed that “no one wants to see curvy women,” in a 2009 interview. He even co-authored a book with his doctor about his eating habits to maintain his weight called The Karl Lagerfeld Diet. Although he was usually hyper-critical of his models and the female form, he also had his personal struggles with weight due to a line of slim-cut Hedi Slimane suits. To fit these coveted suits, he dropped 92 pounds and followed a strict diet devoid of sugar, cream and high fats. Lagerfeld believed fashion over health and wellbeing should be the primary motivator for diet and image maintenance. “There is nothing worse than looking longingly at clothes that you would like to wear but that are definitely too tight for you,” he once wrote.
On a similar note, he also was apparently “fed up” with the #MeToo movement, and was quoted saying: “If you don’t want your pants pulled about, don’t become a model! Join a nunnery, there’ll always be a place for you in the convent.” His public opinions garnered negative feedback, but he did not become any less outspoken during his career.
In terms of discrimination against Muslims, Lagerfeld has stated that the entrance of Muslim migrants was, in his opinion, more detrimental to the Jewish population than the Nazis were in 1940’s Germany. He was quoted regarding his criticism of the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, and her current immigration policy:
“One cannot – even if there are decades between them – kill millions of Jews so you can bring millions of their worst enemies in their place . . . Merkel had already millions and millions (of immigrants) who are well integrated and who work and all is well . . . she had no need to take another million to improve her image as the wicked stepmother after the Greek crisis.”
This sparked incredible controversy with many firing back against Lagerfeld’s remarks and some in his defense.
Past all the controversy, Lagerfeld is still at the end of the day hailed a true artist and fashion genius. Until his death, Lagerfeld never ceased working and creating. He created an average of 14 new collections every year despite his ability to retire in luxury. Concerning his philosophy on retirement and working, Lagerfeld stated:
"Why should I stop working? If I do, I'll die and it'll all be finished. I'm lucky to work in the most perfect of conditions. I can do what I want in all kinds of areas. The expenses are not expenses. I would be stupid to stop that. Work is making a living out of being bored."
Even in death, he will remain as inspiring and eccentric as his designs.