They’re calling it the end of an era – and this is not an overstatement. Chanel will change after Karl Lagerfeld, just as it did when Karl first took over. As he said when he took over, “What I’ve done, Coco Chanel would never have done. She would have hated it.” And also, “If you want to kill a house, show respect”.
What he meant by that is that by honouring someone or something too much, your own voice gets lost. You can’t be an original if you keep paying tribute. The Chanel we know now is all Karl. It is indeed the end of an era, in so many different ways.
If you’ve been visiting this site for a while, you know that one of our constant themes is that caring about fashion is not a character flaw, that it has value, that Fashion Is Important – as an art form and as a form of expression. And, of course, no one expresses themselves quite like Karl Lagerfeld. He’s a shady, petty bitch…in the best and worst ways. In the most quotable way. This is why he became even more popular, and perhaps powerful, in the age of social media. During the rise of digital communication, here was a man in his 70s and 80s entertaining all generations, including millennials, saying whatever the f-ck he wanted with pretty much no risk, even though, well, a lot of what he said was offensive. Karl’s a fat-shamer, he’s a short-man-shamer, he’s a Pippa Middleton shamer (go look that one up if you’ve forgotten), and a narcissist and an elitist – which shouldn’t be an unfair observation to make, not even today. Because Karl was complicated, intentionally. Even Chanel’s official statement acknowledges both his creative talent and his personality – per WWD:
“It is with deep sadness that the house of Chanel announces the passing of Karl Lagerfeld,” Chanel said in a statement, without providing additional details such as the time or cause of death.
“A prolific creative mind with endless imagination, Karl Lagerfeld explored many artistic horizons, including photography and short films. The house of Chanel benefited from his talent for all the branding campaigns related to fashion since 1987. Finally, one cannot refer to Karl Lagerfeld without mentioning his innate sense of repartee and self-mockery.”
Virginie Viard, Chanel’s fashion studio director, who has worked with Karl for over 30 years, has been named as his successor. If you’ve watched any Chanel documentary in the last decade, and the Chanel episode of Netflix’s 7 Days Out, you’re familiar with Virginie and her status within the organisation. She is, naturally, French. Karl loved nothing more than French-ness. She is one of the only people in his life allowed to use “tu” when speaking to him in French instead of the formal “vous”. Virginie Viard is fiercely loyal, she guarded his secrets, is considered one of Karl’s most trustworthy “Chanelettes”, so it’s a choice he likely endorsed, and perhaps even engineered. Reminds me of the piece about Karl in W Magazine written by Virginie Mouzat about Karl’s muses back in 2012, another Virginie that Karl was fond of – it’s worth a re-read if you have already and if you haven’t, you definitely want to get to that today. This paragraph, at the end, in particular.
Viard had suddenly recalled how 10 years ago, as her grandmother, to whom she was very close, neared death, Lagerfeld—seeing her sadness—approached her. “You know,” he said, “one day you won’t have me anymore, either.”
And what will she do then? Viard, along with the rest of Lagerfeld’s Chanelettes—¬having learned from the master—knows that the best thing is to not even think about it.
Karl famously found death distasteful. “There was—and still is—nothing more repulsive to Lagerfeld than death and all it entails: funerals, weakness, illness, the past.” This was reflected in his approach to his work –he kept moving, he never had an attachment to his collections once they were presented; all he ever wanted to do was to get to the next designs. In the end though, with respect to Chanel and Virginie especially, it would seem that, perhaps, he did, before his death, make plans for beyond; that he did, in fact, think about it. And I wonder, as he said of himself when he took over the house, whether or not he would expect Virginie to truly follow in his footsteps and not show the respect.
"Don't dress to kill, dress to survive." – Karl Lagerfeld
Yours in gossip,