In the transitory world of fashion, some designers seem to be immortal, and Karl Lagerfeld was one of them. Or rather: “Kaiser Karl,” as he was respectfully called by many, referring to this impressive and long track record in various well-known fashion houses, such as Chanel, Fendi, Mariana, and Pierre Balmain. But a fashion genius like Karl Lagerfeld is ultimately just a man of flesh and blood.
He died this year of pancreatic cancer in Paris on February 19. “Death is like the holiday trip of life. Something similar to a long school trip...”
Karl Lagerfeld’s name is now forever linked to that of Chanel, after, for more than three decades, he designed a large number of collections for this fashion house. Where in the course of time other designers are exchanged over fashion houses, Karl remained a constant as the timeless figurehead for Chanel since 1983. The speed with which Karl spoke was similar to the speed of designing his yearly collections. Just for Chanel at least six a year.
“My job is to show a fantasy. Designing to me is like breathing. So, if I can’t breathe, I get in trouble,” Lagerfeld noted. He did, however, assume that Coco Chanel would not have been a fan of his work for Chanel. “Coco would have hated what I do. The fashion house has an image, and it was up to me to update that image. I do what she has never done. I had to invent my very own brand. I had to take what Chanel was as a starting point, and bring it to what it could be or could have been.”
In addition to designing, Karl had many other pursuits: photography (including the Chanel campaigns), publishing books, directing short films, and having a fashion label under his own name. His own signature look invariably consisted of a white, high-necked shirt, narrow black tie, and black sunglasses (“It is my very own burka. A kind of burka for men”), hair in a ponytail (he powdered his hair white as was the rage in the eighteenth century), finger-free gloves, many silver rings and narrow blazers. The latter preferably from the Dior Homme collections, for which he lost more than six stone in 2000. “I am a caricature of myself. And I love it. It is like a mask. And to me personally, the Venetian carnival lasts throughout the year.”
Jacques de Bascher
When it comes to Karl’s love life, there is invariably one name that keeps popping up; that of Jacques de Bascher. He was born into an aristocratic family in 1951. When he was nineteen, Jacques met Lagerfeld (who was eighteen years older), and they stayed together to the bitter end. Jacques died of AIDS at the tender age of thirty-eight in 1989. “I loved that man infinitely. He was the most stylish Frenchman I have ever come across. When he was young, he was like a devil with his Garbo face. He dressed like no one else did. He truly was far ahead of his time. He made me laugh more than anyone else ever could. He was my complete opposite. But he was also completely impossible and despicable. He was perfect.”
But, in spite of everything, he and Karl had no physical contact. “I had no physical contact with him. Despite the fact that I, of course, liked him physically. I am a Calvinist in relation to myself and completely indulgent toward others. I was a total puritan. I did not hold him responsible for that. I only wanted to see the good side of Jacques, not what he was doing with the shadier side of his personality. I found his adventures quite entertaining. In that respect, we could not be more different.” Because in the 1970s Jacques was known as a prominent figure in the party fashion scene in Paris, where he was the absolute bad boy or “enfant terrible.”
Jacques’ life was full of alcohol, drugs, sex and parties. He openly admitted to having sex with both men and women. During the eighteen turbulent years that he and Karl were together, Jacques also had a notorious affair with Yves Saint Laurent. According to Pierre Bergé (Yves’ partner), Lagerfeld would have deliberately initiated this affair with the intention of creating trouble for the competing fashion house Y.S.L. Karl had no difficulty with this affair, but was angry with Pierre, who was ultimately responsible for the break-up of the long friendship between Karl and Yves. Now, they were each other’s rivals in both private and business matters. Karl remained with Jacques until his death, and also arranged his funeral and service.
After Jacques’ death, Karl destroyed all souvenirs and documents of their being together. The question remains whether Karl lived a sex-free live. “I am not so interested in sex. I think sex is overrated. I don’t like to sleep with people, as sex does not last. Affection, on the other hand, can be lasting. I think it is also healthier. Having relationships is not really my thing. Personally, I only like high-class escorts. This is attainable for the lifestyle of the rich. But for those for who this is not, porn is necessary. I think it is much harder to perform in porn movies than to fake emotions as actors do in feature films.”
Another great love in Karl’s life was his snow-white Siamese cat with bright blue eyes called Choupette. Choupette came into his life by chance when he had to babysit the cat when his French protégé Baptiste Giabiconi was on tour. Eventually, Karl kept the cat.
“Baptiste went on a holiday and asked if I could take care of his cat while he was on holiday. She was still a kitten at the time and I found her so cute that when Baptiste came back, I told him that the cat would stay here with me.” It was love at first sight and if it were possible, Lagerfeld would have married Choupette.
“A marriage between a man and an animal is still not possible. I never thought that I could be so in love with a cat. Choupette is everything to me. She is my inspiration. She clearly has her own personality, just as people do. We are very much alike, Choupette and I. We are actually just an old couple. She sleeps next to my pillow and never asks for anything. When we eat, she looks at me as if she is asking me a deep philosophical question, and sometimes I wonder if I should not have a conversation about the philosopher Kierkegaard. She maintains my beard for me because we sleep on the same pillow and she spends her entire life licking it.”
In 2008, Lagerfeld discovered the French born Baptiste Giabiconi, who also worked as a model for Chanel. “Extremely skinny, but with an athletic body. Good for wearing clothes, but even better without clothing. He has the spirit of contemporary youth. A private elegance and a certain beauty.” Lagerfeld made Baptiste the new star of his Fendi and Chanel advertising campaigns, and also devoted an entire photo book to him - “The Beauty of Violence.” The book mainly features erotic photos of the then nineteen-year model/muse. At the moment, Baptiste is still the face of the Schwarzkopf Taft hairstyling products.
But was their relationship more than just designer and model/muse? “I know that for years, people have been saying that I am in a relationship with Karl. Or that I would be gay. I don’t mind if people get a kick out of fantasizing about that. It doesn’t matter to me. I have no problems with it. They can say what they want. It actually amuses me as I have enough gay friends,” Moni notes. “The past twelve years have been great. He has completely transformed me. He has changed my life in every way, mainly professionally but also personally. We had a very symbolic relationship, I would almost say like that of a father and son. Today I lose a part of myself. Karl was like a father to me. Karl was my guardian angel. You will be forever in my heart...”
There is an elite group of male models that accompanied Karl Lagerfeld to all kinds of fashion shows and exclusive parties. They were known as “Karl’s boys.” British model Jake Davies and French model Baptiste Giabiconi belonged to that group. “Personally, I do not like the label ‘boys.’ Labels is something for which I design, not what I use to describe people. I like the company. I hate ugly people. So depressing. I see these boys as my family. I have no family of my own, so I consider them my sons. But without the problems unpleasant sons can bring. To me it is a choice, not an obligation. "
"That is a big difference. I do not like obligations. I myself have never had the desire to have children: I have a sister who lives in America, but I haven’t seen her in forty years’ time. Her children never send me a Christmas card. And if I would take an interest in children, it would be as a godfather or a godmother. If there were a child I would have liked to adopt, I would try to find his family and give him or her money for getting an education.”
One of the other models that belongs to Karl’s boys is the American top model Brad Kroenig (of whom Karl once made a cast) and his twelve-year-old son Hudson. Karl has been Hudson’s godfather since 2009. Brad has done campaigns for Chanel, Fendi, Hermès and Tiffany’s, but his big breakthrough came as a nude model for the paper bags of the American apparel group Abercrombie & Fitch. “I met Karl about sixteen years ago in Biarritz. We got along immediately. Without Karl I would no longer be able to work as a model, as I am considered too old in the world of modelling,” the thirty-nine-year-old Brad stated. Eventually, Brad became one of Karl’s favorite male models.
Karl also dedicated a photo book to Brad: “Metamorphoses of an American” for which he photographed Brad from 2003 to 2008. Since he was two years old, Hudson often ran shows for various Chanel collections alongside his father Brad. “Hudson is a modern version of the child actor Jackie Coogan, who starred in the movie ‘The Kid’ with Charlie Chaplin.” The relationship between Brad and Karl isn’t a romantic one either, despite the fact that Brad was often showered by gifts from Karl. “Karl likes his friends looking chic. He is very generous,” said Brad.
In 2010 Lagerfeld openly spoke out against same-sex marriage. “Yes, I am absolutely against it for a very simple reason. In the 1960s the gay community said that they all had the right to be different. And now they suddenly want to lead a ‘normal civil life.’” That statement was not fully appreciated, despite the fact that Karl never publicly came out with his sexual orientation.
When asked whether he was not afraid of offending his fans with this, he answered: “I live too isolated to be bothered by that.” Nevertheless, he made a completely different statement in 2013 by sending two brides onto the catwalk, hand in hand, at the final of the Chanel haute couture collection. Both models were identical dressed, alongside the four-year-old Hudson Kroenig. With this he wanted to openly express his support for the controversy around the legalization of gay marriage in France at the time.
“When two women decide to get married, I find that completely normal. And having two mothers is a good thing too. I don’t understand why two people living together should not have the same legal certainties as those in the straight world. I do not understand the whole debate surrounding it. Since 1904, church and state are separated. I am of the opinion that all religions should tolerate same-sex marriage. The people who see marriage as a sacred religious commitment can continue that tradition in their own churches, temples, synagogues and mosques.”
Lagerfeld is less tolerant when it comes to the adoption of children by gay couples. “I am not in favour of two men adopting a child. Two mothers would be better than having two fathers. Frankly, a child without a mother is a little sad. I find it rather difficult to imagine that one of the fathers is working, while the other stays at home with the baby. How would that be for the baby? I don’t know. I see more married lesbians with children than I see married men with children. Moreover, I believe more in the relationship between a mother and her child than that of a father and his child.”
Karl Lagerfeld was cremated in Nanterre, north-west of Paris on February 22. The cremation ceremony was attended by an extremely private group consisting of friends, relations and employees. Present were, among others, Princess Caroline of Monaco and her daughter Charlotte Casiraghi, former Chanel model Inès de la Fressange, and American Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.
Little publicity was given to the ceremony, as -in contrast to Yves Saint Laurent - Lagerfeld did not want a great farewell or state funeral. “A funeral? I’d rather die. I hate the idea that I would take up space after my death. I’m not really a supporter of commemorations. I do not want to attend them myself, so why would I want to expose others to something that terrible? Moreover, I am not a religious man. When it’s over, it is over. I am not afraid of death. You shouldn’t be, as billions have gone before us. It is one of those things.”
Lagerfeld’s ashes will soon be scattered, alongside the ashes of his mother, at a place that will be announced at a later date. Karl leaves an inheritance of approximately 800 million dollars. Possible heirs are Choupette, Hudson Kroenig, and Sebastien Jondeau (Karl’s closest associate and confidant).