Born to a humble German family, Karl Lagerfeld made his mark on the couture fashion scene in his early twenties and never slowed down. He consistently redefined the fashion industry throughout his 65-year career. With his signature white ponytail, dark glasses, and black and white clothes, even Lagerfeld's outer appearance implied there was something unique and strange about him.
He may have come from humble origins, but his years in fashion turned him into an eccentric, outspoken designer who was not shy of controversy. Read all about the fabulous lifestyle and legacy of Lagerfeld (and his cat).
Diet Coke For Breakfast, Lunch, And Dinner
The famous designer might have redefined luxury, but his addiction to Diet Coke was decidedly middle class. Lagerfeld followed a mostly-liquid diet that was said to include primarily Diet Coke. He kept a separate house just for eating meals and was said to drink an entire soda the moment he woke up.
According to Page Six, Lagerfeld even went so far as to hire a butler who would follow him around at parties with a glass of Diet Coke on a silver tray.
Other Than Coke, He Lived A Sober Life
While the fashion industry is known for its use of alcohol and drugs, Lagerfeld was one of the few who abstained from any substances. In his own words, he had "no time for alcohol." The designer said it made him fall asleep instantly, so he stayed away from it.
He had even shunned cigarettes solely because he needed his hands "for sketching" and didn't want ash or tobacco ruining it.
That Signature Ponytail Had Been Around Since 1976
Lagerfeld's distinctive image of his bright, white hair tied back with a black ribbon had been an essential part of his look since 1976. The designer told M Magazine that in the '70s he was tired of having his long, curly hair get in the way of his designs. Rather than cut it, he chose to pull it back into a ponytail.
For nearly two decades, that signature ponytail was dark brown, but in 1995 it started to grey and he let it grow natural.
His Death Shocked The Fashion Community
Karl Lagerfeld was pronounced dead on February 19, 2019. He had been admitted to a Paris hospital the day before and had been experiencing health complications since January. The concerns meant Lagerfeld actually missed his label's spring/summer couture fashion show during Paris Haute Couture fashion week. It was the first time he'd missed a show.
Over his long career, Lagerfeld had not reported any other health concerns, which is why the sudden illness and death shocked many fashion fans.
No One Knew When He Was Actually Born
The famous designer was known for constantly misrepresenting his age and always claiming to be younger than he was. He once claimed to be born in 1938, but his sister, who was only two years older than him, was born in 1931. In 2013, he "finally admitted" to being born in 1935 but historians quickly found the original birth announcement was in 1933.
While it was largely debated, officials finally settled on a birthday of September 10, 1933, which would have made him 85 when he died.
Cartoons Were His First Passion
Lagerfeld's dream career as a little boy was to become a world-famous cartoonist. Following in the footsteps of people like Walt Disney, Lagerfeld majored in drawing and history in high school. Why did he switch career paths and go into fashion? According to him, it was for the money.
The designer felt he wouldn't make a living wage as a cartoonist and thought his eye for art and design would be put to good use in the fashion industry.
His German Origins Have Caused Some Controversy
Lagerfeld was born in Hamburg, Germany to a businessman who sold evaporated milk. According to the designer, they lived in a small town and he was cut off entirely from knowledge about the Nazi Party and Hitler.
On the other hand, historians have noted his family was shielded from a lot of the horrors of the war because his father's business worked directly with supplying evaporate milk to the Nazi war effort and soldiers on the front line.
He Tried To Marry His Cat
Lagerfeld's true love in life was his redpoint Birman cat named Choupette. According to the designer, a friend asked him to watch the cat but he grew so attached to her, that he refused to give her back.
The head of Chanel even told CNN in 2013 that if he could, he'd marry Choupette but that sadly, marriage between animals and humans is not legal. His love went so far that he even designed a whole fashion collection based on her called "Choupette in Love."
Choupette Lives A Lavish Life
Lagerfeld may not have been able to marry his cat, but he sure could pamper her. Choupette traveled the world with Lagerfeld and boasts her own body guard, has a personal cat chef, and even has two personal maids to tend to her every feline need.
Fans fell in love with Choupette's pampurred lifestyle and she quickly became an Instagram star. Her personal Instagram account boasts an impressive 131,000 followers. Just imagine the ad revenue she could get from Whiskas?
He Got His Big Break In 1955
Lagerfeld moved to Paris to pursue fashion design and caught his big break in 1955 when he was in a coat design competition. Sponsored by International Wool Secretariat, the winning design meant Lagerfeld's coat was sold worldwide.
Winning the contest put Lagerfeld's name on the map and landed him a job at the Balmain fashion house. Competing and winning the contest also introduced Lagerfeld to another soon-to-be-famous contestant that you might recognize—none other than Yves Saint Laurent.
Being Openly Gay Since 13 Isn't Easy
Despite rising to prominence in a more conservative time, Lagerfeld has always been candid about his sexuality. He's been openly gay since he was 13 years old. The designer said that he was "aware of it" as a child and when he came out to his parents, it wasn't a problem.
Lagerfeld was in a long-term relationship with another man, Jacques de Casher, from the early 1970s until his death from AIDS-related complications in 1989.
Jumping From Brand To Brand Was His Bread And Butter
Over the course of Lagerfeld's career, he developed a reputation for jumping from brand to brand and never staying loyal. In total, he's worked for nine different labels. Lagerfeld always got away with it though because every time he came to town the label had unprecedented success.
Lagerfeld managed to turn couture brands like Jean Patou and Fendi into ready-to-wear brands, while at the same time turning fast-fashion labels like H&M and Macy's into high-end stores.
He Single-Handedly Revived Chanel
Of all the brands that Lagerfeld has been associated with, he is most synonymous with Chanel. Lagerfeld joined Chanel in 1983 and managed to bring what was thought of as a "near-dead brand" back to life. He utilized the signature black and white tones of the brand but made ready-to-wear styles.
Lagerfeld is also credited with creating the interlocked "CC" monogram for Coco Chanel, that is now the recognizable symbol for the House of Chanel.
His Early Designs Weren't Exactly Popular
When Lagerfeld finally began to design his own full collections, he wasn't immediately touted as a genius. His first full collection came in 1958 and featured cocktail and evening dresses with such low cuts that "even some of the women reporters gasped." One reporte even booed the collection.
For his Spring 1960 collection, Lagerfeld designed the shortest skirts in all of Paris and they caused an uproar for being "ready to wear" and not "couture."
Andy Warhol Was A Good Friend
In the 1980s, Lagerfeld's fame began rising not only thanks to his designs but also his social life. One friendship the press loved to pick up on was his deep connection to artist Andy Warhol. The two met in the 1970s and Lagerfeld even agreed to act in a 1973 film directed by Warhol.
The two have been constantly compared to each other and after Warhol's death, many saw Lagerfeld as the continuation of his legacy.
Dropping The 'T'
Lagerfeld was actually born Karl Lagerfeldt. He dropped the 'T' when he was still a freshman designer because he wanted a more "couture" French name, rather than one that evoked his German past. He tried completely changing things up in 1958 by designing under the name Ronald Karl but that didn't last.
Dropping the 'T' also helped Lagerfeld build a brand. Many of his early designers were covered by reporters who miscommunicated his name. Differences like Karl Lagerfelt or Karl Logerfeld forced him to change.
His 2001 Weight Loss Shocked His Fans
In 2001, Lagerfeld debuted a new fashion line and a new body. Over the course of 13 months, the designer lost 92 pounds. When asked what inspired the sudden and extreme weight loss, Lagerfeld said he wanted to fit into clothes designed by Hedi Slimane. His diet was so successful he even wrote a book about it.
The weight loss and new diet made Lagerfeld healthier and happier, but at the time, he was criticized by many for promoting thin body stereotypes in the fashion industry.
PETA Isn't Exactly His Friend
Lagerfeld has had some contradictory stances when it comes to animal rights. Even though the designer never wore fur and didn't eat meat himself, he was an outspoken supporter of using fur in fashion.
The opinion cause Lagerfeld to be the target of PETA in 2001 when they threw tofu pies at him. Unfortunately, the pies hit another fashion designer, Calvin Klein, instead (who, ironically, doesn't use any fur). PETA defended their actions by calling Lagerfeld a "designer dinosaur."
He Only Sketches In Makeup
The famous designer shunned the use of regular drawing pencils and instead used makeup pencils to sketch. For more than two decades, Lagerfeld exclusively used Shu Uemura's pressed eyeshadows to sketch out his fabulous fashion designs. He became so well-known for using the makeup that Uemura even created a particular share of red just for Lagerfeld.
Spending all of that time sketching with makeup even inspired the designer to launch his own makeup line in 2012.
A Long String Of Muses
Over his long career, Lagerfeld has picked up many aspiring models and turned them into his muses. Anne Wintour and Claudia Shiffer were some of his early muses. The designer has also used model Kate Moss, singer Florence Welch, and actress Willow Smith as design muses.
His latest and most famous model muse was Kendall Jenner. The Kardashian clan member became a staple at Lagerfeld's fashion shows and even dressed up as the designer for Halloween in 2015.
His Mother Was a Lingerie Saleswoman
Lagerfeld's mother was born into the middle class, with her father employed as a local politician. When Lagerfeld's parents first met in the 1920s, his mother Elisabeth Bahlmann was working as a lingerie saleswoman, so it's likely that she had an interest in fashion and clothing design as well.
Lagerfeld claimed that his mother called herself "Elisabeth of Germany" but this has never been proven. His parents married in 1930 and he was born three years later, in 1933.
Choupette Is About To Get Very Rich
You know how much Karl Lagerfeld loved his cat Choupette. For a cat that has had her own body guard and her own personal chef, it's no surprise that she has an inheritance as well.
According to The Independent, Choupette is set to inherit a sizable chunk of Lagerfeld's fortune, which is upwards of $150 million. When asked if Choupette was an heir to his fortune, he replied, "Among others, yes... don't worry, there is enough for everyone." That is one lucky cat.
He Wore Gloves to Make His Arms Look Longer
Lagerfeld often times wore cut-out leather gloves- it was part of his signature look and personal style. While some people wear gloves for function or for an edgy look, the designer had other reasons.
He told M magazine, “Because in the old protocol, it is impolite to say hello to somebody who is wearing gloves. And you know I cannot sketch if I have leather here [on my fingertips]. It also makes the arm longer, And you know what it means in French to have a long arm? It means you are influential.”
His Mother Told Him Not To Wear Hats
While Lagerfeld enjoys wearing gloves, jewelry, and plenty of eye-catching accessories, you may have noticed that he never wears hats. That’s because from a young age, his mother gave him a hat complex.
He admitted to M magazine, “The other thing that doesn’t work on me is a hat, I love hats, in a way, but when I was a child, I’d wear Tyrolean hats, and my mother – I was something like eight – said to me, ‘You shouldn’t wear hats. You look like an old dyke.’ Do you say such things to children? She was quite funny, no?”
He Introduced New Furs to the Fashion World
As mentioned, PETA wasn’t a big fan of Lagerfeld, due to his interest in fur fashion. It started when Fendi hired the designer to bring life back into their fur line in 1967. At the time, most fashion brands used lynx and kit fox fur, and leopard was the top-seller.
Lagerfeld changed the game by selecting mole, rabbit, and squirrel pelts to use in his designs. The furs were much more affordable than the other materials Fendi had been working with, and customers loved these pelts just the same.
His H&M Collection Sold out in 2 Days
When H&M put their designs in the hands of Lagerfeld, they knew what they were doing. It was 2004, and the brand needed a new look. They wanted their shoppers to be inspired by high-fashion, and look to their stores to fill their wardrobe.
The ‘fast fashion’ designs that he created for H&M were a massive hit. In fact, they completely sold out within 48 hours of release. H&M Marketing Director Jorgen Andersson said, “We’ve been operating this business for some 60 years and we’ve never seen anything like it.”
Lagerfeld Called H&M ‘Embarrassing’
It would be the one and only time that Lagerfeld would loan his design talent to the H&M brand. Their team was completely shocked by the overwhelming interest in Lagerfeld’s designs, and due to poor planning combined with an attempt to keep the collection ‘exclusive’ didn’t have the supply to meet the demand. Lagerfeld wasn’t happy.
He said, “I find it embarrassing that H&M let down so many people… I don’t think that is very kind, especially for people in small towns and countries in eastern Europe. It is snobbery created by anti-snobbery.”
He Stirred Up Controversy After Quoting the Koran
Lagerfeld was a man who wasn’t afraid of taking risks and exploring new muses. In 1994, the designer used a verse from the Koran in his Chanel spring couture collection. The verse was displayed on one of the models, Claudia Schiffer, as she walked the runway in Paris.
The Muslim community was outraged that their holy text was used in fashion, describing it as ‘an insult to our religion.’ Lagerfeld said he thought the words came from a love poem, and he found them in a book about the Taj Mahal. Many Muslims boycotted Chanel after the incident.
He Designed Madonna’s Costumes for the Re-Invention Tour
If anyone can revive a brand or style, it’s Lagerfeld. The designer had proved this time and time again. So when Madonna was looking for a costume designer for her 2004 Re-Invention Tour, she called Lagerfeld.
He designed circus-cabaret inspired outfits for the Queen of Pop under the Chanel brand. The costumes may have been overshadowed, however, as Elton John accused Madonna of lip-synching her performances that year. He later apologized.
Anna Wintour Walked Out Of His Show in ‘93
Although Anna Wintour was a muse of Lagerfeld’s, she wasn’t always pleased with his visions. In 1993, the Vogue editor-in-chief was in attendance at Lagerfeld’s show during Milan Fashion Week. That year he was showcasing his black-and-white collection for Fendi.
Things took a turn when strippers and adult-film star Moana Pozzi began walking the runway wearing his collection. Wintour was shocked and offended, and quickly exited the event. It didn’t go unnoticed, to say the least.
He Lent His Voice to Grand Theft Auto IV
It may sound a little out of his realm, but Lagerfeld did in fact, lend his voice and personality to Grand Theft Auto IV video game. While others thought it was an odd move for the designer, he saw it as an opportunity.
Lagerfeld said, “They are the games of our times. Those games in a way changed the world… I prefer to be in a video game than to play with it. I would love to be a very nasty, politically incorrect character.”
Sarah Jessica Parker Loved Lagerfeld
One of Lagerfeld’s biggest fans was none other than Sex in the City actress Sarah Jessica Parker. It’s no secret that she’s a lover of labels, including Chanel and Fendi. Parker often wore his designs; at red carpet events, award shows, and in her daily life.
After hearing of his passing, Parker stated, “Oh Mr. Lagerfeld, in your company, watching you work, sitting beside you, sharing a meal, being shot by you, being fitted, watching a show, often in awe. Constantly dazzled, frequently shy, always a privilege. There is no replacement. Just countless memories of your extraordinary and tireless work. They broke the mold. Aren’t we all lucky to have known and admired you so.”
He Didn't Have Kind Words For Adele
Grammy Award-winning singer Adele may not have been the first to sing Lagerfeld's praises upon his death. Despite her immense talent, it wasn't enough for Karl Lagerfeld to think that she was as beautiful as the models in his shows.
In 2012, he told Metro Paris, "She is a little too fat, but she has a beautiful face and a divine voice." After he received backlash for the comment, he issued an apology to Metro saying, "I'd like to say to Adele that I am your biggest admirer. Sometimes when you take a sentence out of the article it changes the meaning of the thought."
His Comments On The Royal Family
The whole world was excited with Prince William married Kate Middleton, but what really stole the show at that royal wedding was Kate's sister Pippa in a form-hugging dress that showed off her backside.
Back in 2012, Lagerfeld was discussing the Middleton sisters with The Sun. He said of Kate, "I like that kind of woman, I like romantic beauties." But when it came to Pippa he added, "On the other hand, her sister struggles. I don't like her sister's face. She should only show her back."
He Owned Many Vastly-Decorated Properties
Of course, with Lagerfeld’s massive wealth, he could afford any home that caught his eye. Once he purchased a property, he went all-in on the design, making the home a complete experience once you stepped in the door. Did you expect anything less?
The designer purchased many homes throughout his lifetime, including an Art Deco-designed apartment in Paris, a Rococo-styled home in Brittany, a Memphis-style apartment in Monte Carlo, a modern-style summer villa in Biarritz, an apartment in Manhattan, and another house in Paris.
He Claimed Coco Wasn't A Feminist
Karl Lagerfeld may have been the creative director of Chanel but he said some pretty wild things about the brand's founder, Coco Chanel. While many view Coco Chanel as a forerunner for women in fashion in the 1920s, Lagerfeld may have thought that people were giving her too much credit.
He once did an interview with Harper's Bazaar in which he answered questions as Coco Chanel. When asked if "she" was still a feminist, Lagerfeld assumed Coco would say, "I was never a feminist because I was never ugly enough for that."
Some Consider Him "Fat-Phobic"
The fashion industry is always criticized for promoting unhealthy eating habits among it's models and apparently Karl Lagerfeld had no sympathy for it. He prefers his models thin and was likely not on board with the new wave of inclusivity with fashion and beauty.
When a popular German women's magazine made an announcement in 2009 to start using "ordinary, realistic" women, Lagerfeld scoffed saying that this was driven by women who didn't want to be reminded of their weight. He said, "These are fat mummies sitting with their bags of crisps... saying that thin models are ugly.'
He Believed The Fashion Industry Had Nothing To Do With It
In his criticism of publications and brands using "real" models, Karl Lagerfeld said, "No one wants to see round women." Maybe he didn't want to see any "round women" but he definitely had issues with body image considering his dieting to achieve his massive weight loss.
Back in 2006, Karl Lagerfeld didn't even believe that it was the fashion industry pressuring its models into eating disorders. He said, "They aren't deliberately skinny because they want to be models, they've probably had family problems or suffered from other traumas."
His Real Thoughts About Andy Came Out
Karl Lagerfeld and Andy Warhol may have been good pals back in the day. In Warhol's L'Amour, Lagerfeld even agreed to play a German aristocrat for the film. But surprisingly, years after Warhol's death, Lagerfeld had some pretty interesting comments about his "friend."
He told Vice in 2010 that he found Andy Warhol's physical appearance "quite repulsive." He also said, "I never wanted to have my portrait done by Andy Warhol because I don't care about portraits. I have enough, from Helmut Newton to Irving Penn.
He Was "Fed Up" With The #MeToo Movement
Lagerfeld found himself in the depths of another controversy when he decided to voice his opinion on the #MeToo movement. He told French magazine Numéro, "I'm fed up with it. What shocks me most in all of this are the starlets who have taken 20 years to remember what happened."
When he was asked about a magazine creative director who harassed and assaulted models, Lagerfeld added, "If you don't want your pants pulled about, don't become a model! Join a nunnery."