Legendary designer Karl Lagerfeld dies at the age of 85

The creative director of Chanel was believed to be unwell after he missed a haute couture show in January

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Karl Lagerfeld, the creative designer of Chanel, Fendi and his own label, died in Paris on Tuesday. He was 85.

The German-born designer's health had been the subject of speculation for some time, after Lagerfeld missed the final bow for the first time at Chanel's haute couture show last month.

"Mr Lagerfeld, artistic director of Chanel, who was feeling tired, asked Virginie Viard, director of the creative studio of the house of Chanel, to represent him," an official said at the time.

Lagerfeld's death was confirmed by Chanel, who credited the designer with "reinventing the brand’s codes created by Gabrielle Chanel".

“Thanks to his creative genius, generosity and exceptional intuition, Karl Lagerfeld was ahead of his time, which widely contributed to the house of Chanel's success throughout the world," said the label's chief executive, Alain Wertheimer.

"Today, not only have I lost a friend, but we have all lost an extraordinary creative mind to whom I gave carte blanche in the early 1980s to reinvent the brand.”

Viard, Lagerfeld’s closest collaborator for more than 30 years, will continue the legacy of Chanel and Lagerfeld, Mr Wertheimer said.

Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive of LVMH, which owns Fendi, called Lagerfeld "a creative genius who helped to make Paris the fashion capital of the world".

"We owe him a great deal. His taste and talent were the most exceptional I have ever known," Mr Arnault said.

"I will always remember his immense imagination, his ability to conceive new trends for every season, his inexhaustible energy, the virtuosity of his drawings, his carefully guarded independence, his encyclopaedic culture, and his unique wit and eloquence."

Lagerfeld, who also worked as a photographer and artist, was born in Hambury in 1933, the son of a businessman and his wife, and first moved to Paris as a schoolboy.

He broke into the fashion industry as assistant to Pierre Balmain after winning a design competition in 1954, and later worked at Jean Patou and Chloe.

He was best known for his association with France's Chanel, starting in1983.

The brand, the legend says, was at risk of becoming the preserve of rich older women before he arrived. He slashed hemlines and added glitz to the prim tweed suits of what is now one of the world's most valuable couture houses.

The designer mingled with the young and trendy until the last, pairing up with 17-year-old catwalk darling Kaia Gerber, daughter of Cindy Crawford, for a collaboration released by his Karl Lagerfeld brand in 2018.

His cat Choupette moved with the times too. The white-haired Birman, described by her social network minders as "daughter of Karl Otto Lagerfeld", has more than 100,000 Instagram photo-network followers and a publishing deal.

CORRECTS FROM MODEL TO DESIGNER - Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld walks over the stage at Chanel's pre-fall Metiers d'Art fashion show in the new Elbphilharmonie concert house in Hamburg, northern Germany, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld died in Paris on February 19. AP

The man behind the glasses

Lagerfeld, who simultaneously churned out collections for LVMH's Fendi and his eponymous label – a feat unheard of in fashion – was almost a brand in his own right.

Sporting dark suits, white, pony-tailed hair and tinted sunglasses in his later years that made him instantly recognisable, an irreverent wit was also part of a carefully crafted persona.

"I am like a caricature of myself, and I like that," runs one quote attributed to him, and often recycled to convey the person he liked to play. "It is like a mask. And for me the Carnival of Venice lasts all year long."

epa07380352 (FILE) - German designer Karl Lagerfeld waves as models present creations from his Spring/Summer 2019 Women's collection for Chanel at the Grand Palais during the Paris Fashion Week, in Paris, France, 02 October 2018 (reissued 19 February 2019). According to media reports, Lagerfeld has died on 19 February 2019. He was 85.  EPA/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON *** Local Caption *** 54671153
Karl Lagerfeld waves as models present creations from his spring / summer 2019 collection for Chanel during Paris Fashion Week on October 2, 2018. EPA

Armed with an acerbic wit, Lagerfeld often found himself in trouble, famously insulting singer Adele for not being a size 10 (he apologised by sending her armfuls of Chanel bags).

Last year, he courted controversy by claiming that the presence of Muslim migrants in Germany was an affront to Jewish Holocaust victims, and was widely criticised for his racist, Islamophobic stance.

But ultimately, Lagerfeld will be remembered as a craftsman. An accomplished photographer, he drew his own designs by hand, an increasingly rare phenomenon in fashion.

Behind the facade, he was known for his erudition and penchant for literature, and he read the world's leading newspapers every day.