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“It took a few months to happen, but when we finally received the document, it was so much more than we had expected,” Tonchi recalls. “Karl understood this was an interesting project because it would give him a different weight and depth than his other designs. We immediately felt it was very special.”

Like a scrapbook, the 19 pages were peppered in Polaroid snapshots and photos — of Karl’s homes, art, furniture, objects — taped and glued to the paper, his circuitous handwriting scrawled throughout. There were images of his properties in Monte Carlo, Biarritz, Brittany, Berlin, and Le Mée near Fontainebleau: bedrooms immaculately decorated in shades of blue, inspired by Louis XIV; a glimpse inside a Parisian apartment, mid-renovation. Lagerfeld’s submission was so exhaustive that what was regularly a two-page feature was doubled in size to accommodate the remarkably thorough compilation.

“It was very, very special for Karl to look back and tell us about his own life, through the places he lived in,” Tonchi says, adding that Lagerfeld was known to detest the past. “It’s like a biography, by way of the places he lived.”

Considering the impact that Karl Lagerfeld had on the world of fashion, it’s surprising to hear Stefano Tonchi say he seldom thought of his friend in the capacity of a fashion designer. “Somehow, I never looked at him through the eyes of a fashion person, because that’s not how I personally knew him,” recalls Tonchi, the esteemed editor. “I hadn’t seen his latest designs for Chloé; I hadn’t been to the latest Chanel show. I discovered Karl because of his love of culture.”

The year was 2004. Tonchi had just founded T:The New York Times Style Magazine, following stints at Esquire and The Sunday Times Magazine amongst others. He says that since his fashion expertise was in menswear and Lagerfeld’s was in women’s ready-to-wear and couture, the pair connected over their mutual interests in creative arts: history, people, places, architecture, interior design and exhibitions. “I don’t remember conversations about fashion or clothes,” Tonchi says of their encounters at Lagerfeld’s Parisian studio. “But I heard a lot about his love of furniture — and how he lived in his own world.”

And so, in the summer of 2008 — as the editorial team of T Magazine began to concept its holiday issue — Tonchi had the idea to feature Lagerfeld in “Profile in Style,” a story that explores the inspirations, items and fascinations that influence creative minds. Lagerfeld’s popularity was at an all-time high and Tonchi hoped he would agree to the idea, knowing what little time his friend had for such requests.

Scattered in its organization, the eclectic anthology flowed from 1930s images of Lagerfeld’s childhood home in Blankenese, Germany, to a 1979 Polaroid of his French Chateau, Penhouët. Later, a 2000s snapshot of his “beloved bookstore” in Paris was followed by photos of his Berlin apartment dated 1995 (Karl noted, “It’s very ‘Weimar Republic’”).

“His attachment to some of these places was surprising to me,” Tonchi reveals. “I didn’t know so much about where he had lived, where he had many memories. His relationship with Monte Carlo. His discovery of Biarritz. When another designer had one house, he would have multiple and change them like he would change his clothes. And he would never look back.”

It’s unclear how often Lagerfeld visited all of his homes amidst his whirlwind calendar. (He balanced roles as Creative Director for Chanel, Fendi and his eponymous maison, KARL LAGERFELD, and he commonly flew to Rome or New York at a moment’s notice.) Yet, regardless of how much time he physically spent in each place, it is clear he approached everything he touched with a sense of intent and a clear vision. Every room was meticulously curated, every piece of furniture selected with purpose. Each result is unmistakably distinct — and unmistakably Karl.

One page features 1980s snapshots of his iconic Cote d’Azur property, La Vigie. It had all the decadence you could expect of a French villa: lavish décor with Belle Epoque opulence, all framed by dramatic views of the Mediterranean. Lagerfeld personally captured these photos from his second Monte Carlo residence, an apartment at Roccabella, just 1,600 meters away. In an epic juxtaposition, the latter was then fully clad in Memphis Group style, which the all-anticipating Karl began to collect well before it became a trend. On a photo of that living room, he drew an arrow pointing to the art: “On the wall, only Big Nudes by H. Newton.”

“It was like on one side he was post-modern and on the other he was an incredible classicist,” Tonchi observes. “He was always connected to the present, but he had an incredible understanding and knowledge of history. He collected 17th and 18th century furniture before anybody else; he was also the first to collect Memphis furniture and later Zaha Hadid furniture, while he was living in a 1920s villa in Biarritz. It’s a post-modern man who can make all of these time periods collapse into one.”

As Lagerfeld was notoriously elusive about his private life, the document had a surprising amount of personal biography. There was a rare photo of him aged five years old, wearing lederhosen. (“I loved only Austrian clothes as a child. Nobody had it in the north of Germany then.”) A dimly lit image peered into a private dinner party with friends at the rue de l’Université apartment. A rendering of a Tadao Ando house was captioned, “It was not allowed to be built in France, not near Paris and not in Biarritz. My biggest regret, too late!”

Tonchi assigned the Times’ fashion critic Cathy Horyn to write the piece, tasked with the job of not only deciphering Lagerfeld’s handwriting, but also translating the unique story to share with two million readers.

“It’s something very useful for whoever wants to look at Karl’s life, and put his past in perspective,” Tonchi says. “I think what Karl is remembered for is more than just clothes. It’s his capacity to understand communication and use communication to tell his story.”

For the record, Tonchi only ever received a scan of the scrapbook; the original remains buried amongst the annals and hidden treasures of Lagerfeld’s Parisian office. However, the “Profile in Style” story is but one example of an ongoing creative exchange cultivated by the two men.

“I would propose ideas, and Karl would help make them come to life,” Tonchi recalls. “What people don’t know is that Karl was incredibly supportive and incredibly generous — with books, gifts, experiences, things, and himself.”

In 2011, Tonchi and his husband, art dealer David Maupin, welcomed twin daughters Maura and Isabella. It was then that Lagerfeld revealed to Tonchi what was his most unexpected role: family man. While it’s perhaps unnatural to imagine Karl — buttoned-up in a crisp suit jacket and sunglasses — having a soft spot for children, Tonchi says he was deeply interested and caring. He called the girls his great grandchildren.

“He would talk about his cat when I spoke about my daughters,” Tonchi says with a chuckle. “And kids are not cats, and cats are not kids, but those conversations brought us really close. I discovered many aspects of him. You know, I love his understanding of family when he didn’t really have one. Somehow, he made fashion his family.”

Click here to see the rest of Karl’s scrapbook.

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