THE REAL KARL

Behind the dark sunglasses, polished suit and flawless hair — behind the international fashion icon — Karl Lagerfeld was an incredible human. Extraordinarily perceptive. Brilliantly well-read. A dazzling storyteller. His friends knew him as genuine, generous and kind. And as a surprise to many, he had a biting sense of humor. Karl’s sharp tongue could deliver a wisecrack with perfect timing; he always promised to be an entertaining conversationalist. While the public perception of him was a carefully curated image, there was much more to Karl than what meets the eye…

Legendary fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld at work in 1984, surrounded by sketches and drawings scattered on the desk in front of him and pinned to the wall behind him.​
Legendary fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld at work in 1984, surrounded by sketches and drawings scattered on the desk in front of him and pinned to the wall behind him.​
Legendary fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld at work in 1984, surrounded by sketches and drawings scattered on the desk in front of him and pinned to the wall behind him.​

Karl Lagerfeld at work © Jürgen Schadeberg

KARL THE DESIGNER

KARL THE DESIGNER

Design was the foundation of Karl’s life; for him, expressing his inexhaustible creativity was an intrinsic need. However, his career in fashion happened somewhat accidentally, as he originally planned to become an illustrator. By chance, he entered the 1954 International Woolmark Prize — at just 21 years old — and won first place for his sketch of a coat, which instantly launched his career. In the 65 years that followed, fashion remained the core of his work, though he continually explored various realms of design. This was fueled by an unrelenting mind and boundless sources of inspiration, from people and places to art and pop culture.

"I DESIGN LIKE I BREATHE, YOU

DON’T ASK TO BREATHE; IT JUST

HAPPENS.”


-Karl Lagerfeld

"I DESIGN LIKE I BREATHE, YOU DON’T ASK TO BREATHE; IT JUST HAPPENS.”

-KARL LAGERFELD

Karl Lagerfeld playfully looks through the ring of a pair of fabric scissors in place of his signature black sunglasses.​
Karl Lagerfeld playfully looks through the ring of a pair of fabric scissors in place of his signature black sunglasses.​
Karl Lagerfeld playfully looks through the ring of a pair of fabric scissors in place of his signature black sunglasses.​

Karl Lagerfeld Posing with Scissors © Pierre Guillaud / AFP

Karl Lagerfeld is pictured on the cover of the April 2009 issue of Madame Figaro China, which included a pattern for a jacket designed exclusively for the magazine’s readers.
Karl Lagerfeld is pictured on the cover of the April 2009 issue of Madame Figaro China, which included a pattern for a jacket designed exclusively for the magazine’s readers.
Karl Lagerfeld is pictured on the cover of the April 2009 issue of Madame Figaro China, which included a pattern for a jacket designed exclusively for the magazine’s readers.

Madame Figaro China Cover © Karl Lagerfeld

KARL THE PHOTOGRAPHER

When Karl shot his first campaign in 1987, he became immediately enthralled by photography; moving behind the lens was yet another form of creative expression. His technical photographic vocabulary included screen prints, Polaroid transfers, resinotypes, daguerreotypes, digital prints, platinotypes and Fresson prints. In 1999, he opened his own photo studio in Paris, where he captured countless images with some of the world’s greatest icons from creative industries and beyond. Many of Karl’s photos were also transformed into art books, largely published by Steidl.

Karl Lagerfeld is pictured behind the camera, looking down the lens, poised to shoot.​
Karl Lagerfeld is pictured behind the camera, looking down the lens, poised to shoot.​
Karl Lagerfeld is pictured behind the camera, looking down the lens, poised to shoot.​

KARL’S SELF-PORTRAITS

KARL’S SELF-PORTRAITS

While Karl excelled at capturing others, he was also a master of self-portraits. Throughout his lifetime, he photographed, painted and drew countless portraits of his own iconic look.

A bookcase stacked with vertically and horizontally laid books provides a backdrop to Karl Lagerfeld standing on a coffee table, also strewn with books, and dressed in his iconic black suit, white shirt and tie, leather gloves and signature sunglasses.​
A bookcase stacked with vertically and horizontally laid books provides a backdrop to Karl Lagerfeld standing on a coffee table, also strewn with books, and dressed in his iconic black suit, white shirt and tie, leather gloves and signature sunglasses.​
A bookcase stacked with vertically and horizontally laid books provides a backdrop to Karl Lagerfeld standing on a coffee table, also strewn with books, and dressed in his iconic black suit, white shirt and tie, leather gloves and signature sunglasses.​

Karl Lagerfeld Self Portrait © Karl Lagerfeld

“PHOTOGRAPHY IS PART OF MY LIFE. IT COMPLETES THE CIRCLE BETWEEN MY ARTISTIC AND PROFESSIONAL RESTLESSNESS.”

-KARL LAGERFELD

“PHOTOGRAPHY IS PART OF MY

LIFE. IT COMPLETES THE CIRCLE

BETWEEN MY ARTISTIC AND

PROFESSIONAL RESTLESSNESS.”


-Karl Lagerfeld

A bookcase stacked with vertically and horizontally laid books provides a backdrop to Karl Lagerfeld standing on a coffee table, also strewn with books, and dressed in his iconic black suit, white shirt and tie, leather gloves and signature sunglasses.​
A bookcase stacked with vertically and horizontally laid books provides a backdrop to Karl Lagerfeld standing on a coffee table, also strewn with books, and dressed in his iconic black suit, white shirt and tie, leather gloves and signature sunglasses.​
A bookcase stacked with vertically and horizontally laid books provides a backdrop to Karl Lagerfeld standing on a coffee table, also strewn with books, and dressed in his iconic black suit, white shirt and tie, leather gloves and signature sunglasses.​

Karl Lagerfeld in the 7L Bookshop, © Eric Dessons/JDD/Sipa

KARL THE BOOK LOVER

KARL THE BOOK LOVER

With over 300,000 books in his private collection, Karl had an insatiable appetite for the written word. His home, studio and offices all brimmed with towering stacks of books, on topics ranging from history to art, music, geography, architecture and more. When he opened his photo studio in 1999, he conjoined it to a bookshop called 7L. A year later, he also became a publisher with the launch of the EDITIONS 7L publishing house, which specializes in books about visual knowledge and photography. Ultimately, Karl’s passion for literature reflects his unparalleled thirst for learning, knowledge and cultural awareness.

KARL THE ARCHITECTURE LOVER

KARL THE ARCHITECTURE LOVER

As Karl’s career became increasingly multidisciplinary, he found himself involved in various projects for interior design and architecture — both subjects that deeply fascinated him. His resulting work can be found in places like Paris, Macau, Miami, Berlin, Taiwan, Monte-Carlo, Singapore and Toronto, and more. Most recently, his projects included a lavish four-year renovation of the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris, and The KARL LAGERFELD Hotel in Macau (set to open in late 2020).

Karl Lagerfeld appears as a shadowy figure at the back of his cool-toned apartment, while a high-gloss silver chair and stools and a vast white leather banquette occupy the foreground. ​
Karl Lagerfeld appears as a shadowy figure at the back of his cool-toned apartment, while a high-gloss silver chair and stools and a vast white leather banquette occupy the foreground. ​
Karl Lagerfeld appears as a shadowy figure at the back of his cool-toned apartment, while a high-gloss silver chair and stools and a vast white leather banquette occupy the foreground. ​

Appartement of Karl Lagerfeld, © AD Magazine

A black and white self-portrait of Karl Lagerfeld, wearing playful white cat ears and his signature black sunglasses, while holding his beloved white cat Choupette, who looks straight down the lens of the camera.  ​
A black and white self-portrait of Karl Lagerfeld, wearing playful white cat ears and his signature black sunglasses, while holding his beloved white cat Choupette, who looks straight down the lens of the camera.  ​
A black and white self-portrait of Karl Lagerfeld, wearing playful white cat ears and his signature black sunglasses, while holding his beloved white cat Choupette, who looks straight down the lens of the camera.  ​

Karl and Choupette © Karl Lagerfeld

KARL & CHOUPETTE

KARL & CHOUPETTE

It’s hard to believe that Karl’s love for cats didn’t come until later in his life — and in fact, it was just one feline who won his heart. Karl was originally asked to take care of Choupette for a week, but come Monday he insisted she never leave. “It was love at first sight,” Karl recalled. “She is peaceful, funny, fun and gracious; she’s pretty to look at and has good poise.”

"I LOVE TO BE CREATIVE ALL THE TIME. IF NOT, I WOULD BE BORED AND BOREDOM IS A CRIME"


-KARL LAGERFELD

"I LOVE TO BE CREATIVE ALL THE

TIME. IF NOT, I WOULD BE BORED

AND BOREDOM IS A CRIME"


-Karl Lagerfeld

Karl Lagerfeld is pictured among celebrity party-goers and revellers at his Venetian Ball at Le Palace in Paris in 1978. ​
Karl Lagerfeld is pictured among celebrity party-goers and revellers at his Venetian Ball at Le Palace in Paris in 1978. ​
Karl Lagerfeld is pictured among celebrity party-goers and revellers at his Venetian Ball at Le Palace in Paris in 1978. ​

Karl Lagerfeld at « La Folle nuit Venitienne » Party © Michelle de Rouville / Scoop / Paris Match

Karl Lagerfeld pictured at the Karl Lagerfeld Party at Studio 54 in New York.​
Karl Lagerfeld pictured at the Karl Lagerfeld Party at Studio 54 in New York.​
Karl Lagerfeld pictured at the Karl Lagerfeld Party at Studio 54 in New York.​

Karl Lagerfeld at « Lagerfeld Party » in Studio 54 © Dustin Pittman/Penske Media/REX

Karl Lagerfeld sporting an elaborate conical hat at a party hosted by LouLou del la Falaise at Le Palace in Paris in 1978.
Karl Lagerfeld sporting an elaborate conical hat at a party hosted by LouLou del la Falaise at Le Palace in Paris in 1978.
Karl Lagerfeld sporting an elaborate conical hat at a party hosted by LouLou del la Falaise at Le Palace in Paris in 1978.

Karl Lagerfeld at Loulou de la Falaise’s Party © Jack Nisberg / Roger

KARL THE COLLABORATOR

Collaboration was one of Karl’s greatest passions. He loved to work with — and be inspired by — creative talents including artists, designers, celebrities, musicians and iconic brands like Coca-Cola, Barbie, Steiff, Faber Castell, tokidoki and more. In 2004, Karl was asked by H&M to collaborate on a capsule collection; this was the first time ever that the fast fashion giant partnered with a high fashion and runway designer. The acclaimed project had resounding effects on the fashion industry, which have lasted to this day.

KARL THE COLLABORATOR

Collaboration was one of Karl’s greatest passions. He loved to work with — and be inspired by — creative talents including artists, designers, celebrities, musicians and iconic brands like Coca-Cola, Barbie, Steiff, Faber Castell, tokidoki and more. In 2004, Karl was asked by H&M to collaborate on a capsule collection; this was the first time ever that the fast fashion giant partnered with a high fashion and runway designer. The acclaimed project had resounding effects on the fashion industry, which have lasted to this day.

AT HOME WITH KARL

AT HOME WITH KARL

Twelve years later, former Editor of T-Magazine Stefano Tonchi reflects on a one-of-a-kind scrapbook he once received from Karl Lagerfeld.

A page from a one-of-a-kind scrapbook given by Karl Lagerfeld to Editor of T-Magazine Stefano Tonchi.
A page from a one-of-a-kind scrapbook given by Karl Lagerfeld to Editor of T-Magazine Stefano Tonchi.
A page from a one-of-a-kind scrapbook given by Karl Lagerfeld to Editor of T-Magazine Stefano Tonchi.

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.

“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.”

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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.”

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.”


“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.”

Another page from Karl Lagerfeld’s scrapbook dated 1985 includes a photograph of a candlelit dinner party and with the handwritten text “a candle light dinner in the small dining room of 51 Rue d l’Universite (second floor), very much like the painting of a dinner in the 1770s by Ollivier.”​
Another page from Karl Lagerfeld’s scrapbook dated 1985 includes a photograph of a candlelit dinner party and with the handwritten text “a candle light dinner in the small dining room of 51 Rue d l’Universite (second floor), very much like the painting of a dinner in the 1770s by Ollivier.”​
Another page from Karl Lagerfeld’s scrapbook dated 1985 includes a photograph of a candlelit dinner party and with the handwritten text “a candle light dinner in the small dining room of 51 Rue d l’Universite (second floor), very much like the painting of a dinner in the 1770s by Ollivier.”​

A TRIBUTE TO KARL: THE WHITE SHIRT PROJECT

A TRIBUTE TO KARL: THE WHITE SHIRT PROJECT

A collection of decorative white shirts from The White Shirt Project on display. The collection was designed by Karl Lagerfeld’s friends and family in celebration of his iconic legacy. ​
A collection of decorative white shirts from The White Shirt Project on display. The collection was designed by Karl Lagerfeld’s friends and family in celebration of his iconic legacy. ​
A collection of decorative white shirts from The White Shirt Project on display. The collection was designed by Karl Lagerfeld’s friends and family in celebration of his iconic legacy. ​


It’s impossible to think about Karl Lagerfeld without envisioning his signature style: sleek leather gloves, mysterious dark sunglasses and, above all, a tailored white shirt. It was a fundamental piece in his own look, while season after season he faithfully evolved his vision of white shirts in his collections.


To celebrate Karl’s legacy, a global community of his friends and family has come together to reinterpret his beloved design. Inspired by their own personal anecdotes and experiences, they have reimagined the shirts to artfully reflect their own cherished memories of Karl.


The list of contributors includes (amongst others) Cara Delevingne, Kaia Gerber, Gigi Hadid, Lewis Hamilton, Diane Kruger, Alessandro Michele, Helen Mirren, Jean-Baptiste Mondino, Kate Moss, Takashi Murakami, Olivia Palermo, Soo Joo Park, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nadja Swarovski, Amber Valletta, Steven Wilson and more.




The tribute launches worldwide on September 26 and will include limited-edition designs to be sold for charity, a traveling exhibition and much more.

“When I think of Karl’s most iconic designs from his career, I always I think of his white shirts,” said Carine Roitfeld, Style Advisor of KARL LAGERFELD and curator of the tribute project. “This tribute will allow us to honor his legacy while incorporating his unwavering love of fashion and giving back; I can’t imagine a better way for us to celebrate his passion for creativity.”


#MYWHITESHIRTFORKARL


The “Tribute to Karl” project is complemented by essential white shirts for men and women. The collector’s edition pieces are embellished with Karl’s signature details — a high collar and thick cuffs — plus a special edition tribute label on the front. Crafted from cotton poplin, the designs combine artisanal details with a sense of effortless, pared-back perfection.



In memory of Karl, a community of international influencers has come together to show how they style these white shirts. Whether tucked in or worn loose, dressed up or dressed down, they each put their signature touch on the iconic design. You are invited to follow along — and join yourself — using #MyWhiteShirtForKarl.

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