"What I enjoy most is doing something I've never done before".—Karl Lagerfeld
Haute Couture fashion is all about being larger than life, and no designer exemplifies this more than Karl Lagerfeld. Lagerfeld has worked for some of the most iconic fashion houses in the world, from Balmain to Fendi, and is credited with the resurgence of the House of Chanel, which flourishes to this day. With his distinctive appearance, including his powdered white ponytail and dark sunglasses, and his very public devotion to his pampered pet cat, Choupette, Lagerfeld’s behavior is almost as captivating as his gorgeous and sometimes daring fashion designs. People were shocked by the beloved figure's death—producing roughly 14 collections a year and always ready to provide a pithy quip to reporters, Lagerfeld seemed like a constant in the ever-changing world of fashion. Here are 42 sensational facts about the iconic designer Karl Lagerfeld.
1. Unknown Details
Karl Lagerfeld was born in Hamburg Germany. While the iconic designer is notoriously coy about the year of his birth — he’s never publicly revealed his birthday—he was reportedly born on September 10th, 1933. For his part, Mr. Lagerfeld claims to be "a complete improvisation," only lending further to his mystique.
2. Dropping the "T"
Lagerfeld was born Karl Otto Lagerfeldt. He dropped the "t" from his last name early in his career, reportedly to make it sound "more commercial". Not a surprise, coming from a man known for constant reinvention.
3. Creative Remembering
Lagerfeld is extremely cagey about his background. In addition to the misrepresentation of his birth year, he’s been known to fudge details about his family background. He’s claimed to have been born in 1938 to "Elisabeth of Germany" and Otto Ludwig Lagerfeldt from Sweden. Contradicting this, his father was from Hamburg, and while his mother was indeed an Elizabeth from Germany, there’s no record she ever went by that title.
4. Humble Beginnings
Lagerfeld’s father, Otto Ludwig Lagerfeldt, owned a company that exported evaporated milk. At the time he met Elizabeth, his future wife, she was working as a lingerie salesperson (perhaps inspiring her son’s interest in ladies’ fashion).
5. Sitting It Out
While Lagerfeld was raised in 1930s Germany, coinciding with Hitler's rise to power, the Lagerfeldts moved to a rural area of northern Germany, where, as Karl would later claim, he was cut off from any knowledge about the Nazis. But since his father had business interests in the firm Glücksklee-Milch GmbH, his family stayed relatively prosperous through WWII and its aftermath.
6. Spoiled Rotten
Lagerfeld claims that as a child he was "unbearable and spoiled," comparing himself to Shirley Temple, and even today he cannot go to sleep without a pillow clutched to his stomach.
7. Big Break
Lagerfeld got his start in the fashion world in 1955, after winning a design competition sponsored by International Wool Secretariat, taking first place in the coat category. After the contest, he met a fellow winner of another category, who would also go on to become a famous designer and a close friend. That winner’s name was none other than Yves Saint Laurent.
8. Rising Star
Lagerfeld was soon hired by designer Pierre Balmain, where he worked his way from junior assistant to apprentice. Lagerfeld remained at Balmain for three years.
9. Season After Season
In 1958, after three years at Balmain, Lagerfeld moved to Jean Patou. His first collection was shown in a two-hour presentation in July 1958, but he used the name Roland Karl, rather than Karl Lagerfeld. During his five years at Jean Patou, Lagerfeld designed two haute couture collections per year.
10. Causing A Stir
Lagerfeld designed the shortest skirts in all of Paris for the spring 1960 collection, and his collection got a poor reception. Then in the fall, he designed special hats which looked like pancake shaped circles of satin. They hung on the cheek, and he called them "slaps in the face". This time he received a warmer reception, but was still not considered particularly groundbreaking.
11. Following His Own Path
Lagerfeld, never one to stay still for too long, grew bored of working at Jean Patou and quit, spending two years hanging out on beaches; after an attempt to return to school failed, he "studied life" instead. He began working at Tiziani, a Rome-based fashion house, and once again caused a stir in the fashion world—in 1963, Tiziani launched a 90-outfit collection with a three-day party that incorporated Catherine the Great’s jewels (borrowed from Harry Winston) and attracting the attention of famous fans like Elizabeth Taylor.
Lagerfeld stayed at Tiziani until 1969, but in 1964 he began freelancing for Chloé, designing a few pieces for each collection, and in 1965 began designing furs, accessories, and clothing for Fendi, the Italian fashion house.
13. Hired Gun
During Lagerfeld’s career, he developed a reputation for jumping from one label to the next, with a nearly unparalleled track record of success. At Chanel in the early 1980s he managed a seemingly impossible feat: He brought what was thought of as a near-dead brand back to life with a new and popular fashion line of ready-to-wear clothes. He is also credited with integrating the famous interlocked "CC" monogram of Coco Chanel as a styled pattern for the House of Chanel.
14. On His Own
In 1984, after more than 20 years designing for various fashion houses in Europe, Lagerfeld launched his own brand, which he built around the idea of what he described as "intellectual sexiness". The brand developed a reputation for quality tailoring with bold ready-to-wear pieces like cardigan jackets in bright colors. Lagerfeld sold the line in 2005 to Tommy Hilfiger.
15. Out in the Open
Mr. Lagerfeld is candid about his homosexuality. He says he was aware of it by the age of 13, when he told his parents, for whom it was not a problem.
16. Book Lover
While most of his campaigns appear to be shot at some high-end exotic location, they are actually shot in Lagerfeld’s quaint little art and architecture bookstore, called 7L. Lagerfeld opened the book shop in Paris on Rue de Lille in 1999, to sell a personally-curated collection of books on fine art, fashion, architecture, food, photography, and design.
17. Silver Screen
Lagerfeld has served as costume designer for 16 film productions, including the 1988 French Oscar-winner, Babette’s Feast.
18. Picture Perfect
In addition to speaking French, English, German and Italian, Lagerfeld speaks fluent emoji: he even created and released 30 emojis. The emojis included a silhouette of the famous designer, studded-gloved hands making a "heart" shape, and smiling and frowning faces of his famous cat, Choupette.
19. From Designer to Director
In 2013, he directed the short film Once Upon a Time…, featuring Keira Knightley in the role of Coco Chanel and Clotilde Hesme as her aunt Adrienne Chanel. The short tells the story of Chanel opening her first shop in French city of Deauville.
In 2014, Lagerfeld collaborated with musician Pharrell Williams to co-direct a short film, titled Reincarnation, produced by the House of Chanel. The short, filmed in Paris, starred Geraldine Chaplin as Coco Chanel, and told a fictionalized story of Coco’s inspiration to design her famous little black jacket. In the film, two paintings (one of Joseph I, played by Williams, and one of Empress Elizabeth of Austria, played by model Cara Delevingne) come to life to dance and sing songs written by Williams for the film.
21. Weight Loss
In 2001, Lagerfeld stunned the fashion world through yet another transformation. While he had previously been a somewhat large man, he lost 92 lbs (about 42 kg) in a just over a year. He explained: "I suddenly wanted to dress differently, to wear clothes designed by Hedi Slimane…. But these fashions, modeled by very, very slim boys—and not men my age—required me to lose at least 40 kg. It took me exactly 13 months".
22. The Lagerfeld Diet
Dr. Jean-Claude Houdret created a diet specifically for Lagerfeld, which in turn led to the publication of a book called The Karl Lagerfeld Diet. The book contained an attitude typical of Lagerfeld: "If you are lucky enough not to need to go on a diet for [health] reasons, there is nothing to stop you from pretending to others that health is indeed your motivation".
23. Avoiding Vices
Lagerfeld abstains from alcohol, claiming that he falls asleep instantly when he drinks. He also claims to stay away from smokes because he needs his hands "for sketching," and attributes his ageless skin to washing it every day before bed.
24. Signature Look
Lagerfeld has worn his hair in his signature ponytail since 1976. In the inaugural issue of quarterly men’s magazine M, he revealed that in the 70s he grew tired of having long, curly hair, so he pulled it back into a ponytail and that’s been his signature hairstyle ever since.
25. Powdered Do
Lagerfeld’s signature ponytail has been snowy white since 1995, when he began to go grey. Instead of coloring his hair darker, Lagerfeld turns his hair totally white with the aid of Klorane dry shampoo, with the added bonus of keeping his ponytail constantly clean.
26. Scent of A Legend
What does Karl Lagerfeld smell like? According to ELLE, like "fresh, ironed linen". The designer launched his first line of fragrances under his name in 2014, with a signature fragrance for men and one for women.
27. Fancy Ride
Lagerfeld, who is obsessed with luxury, loves fine automobiles. He has had two cars customized: a Maybach Landaulet, which reportedly cost $1,350,000, and a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe, which is an interpretation of the classic 1930s Rolls-Royce design, which cost about the same.
28. Drawing In Makeup
Lagerfeld has been using Shu Uemura’s pressed eye shadows to sketch with for more than 20 years. He even had a particular shade of red made custom for himself.
29. Music Muse
In addition to costume design for film, Lagerfeld has clothed some famous pop stars. He designed outfits for Madonna's 2004 Re-Invention tour, and has also designed stage outfits for Kylie Minogue’s Showgirl tour.
Despite Lagerfeld’s love of his cat, Choupette, he has drawn the ire of animal rights activists like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for his continued use of fur. While Lagerfeld himself does not wear fur, nor does he eat meat, he defends the use of fur and leather in fashion.
31. Pie Eyed
Lagerfeld was the target of a pie-ing by in 2001 at a fashion premiere at Lincoln Center in New York City. Tofu pies were thrown by PETA activists in protest of the use of fur in his collections, but they went astray and ended up hitting Calvin Klein. PETA apologized for what they called "friendly fire," as Klein does not use fur in his fashions.
32. Fake Fur
In more recent years, Lagerfeld may have changed his mind about the use of fur in fashion. His 2010 collection for Chanel used artificial fur in its designs. He is quoted on PETA’s website as saying, "It’s the triumph of fake fur… because fake fur changed so much and became so great now that you can hardly see a difference".
33. Invisible Fashion
Lagerfeld, who is German, has twice paid homage to another famous German, Hans Christian Andersen. In the 1980s, a version of Andersen’s famous fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, was published with drawings by Lagerfeld. The story tells of a king tricked into believing that invisible clothes have been made for him and unknowingly going out in the buff—ironically some of the drawings by such a famous fashion designer would feature no clothes at all!
34. Real Life Fairy Tale
In 1997, Lagerfeld contributed to an issue of Visionaire, a book series. Titled Visionaire 23: The Emperor’s New Clothes, the book featured a collection of photographs taken by Lagerfeld of undressed models and actresses including Amber Valletta, Rupert Everett, and Demi Moore. Visionaire described the issue as such: "Over the course of nine months, ensconced in his private Paris studio, he captured men and women as they shed their clothes to reveal their true physiques—and their true selves… Presented in a custom-designed, blond-wood painter’s box, the rich, sepia-toned prints were packaged like bonbons, with chocolate-colored flock and ribbon".
35. Kitty Companion
Lagerfeld may not have a spouse or children, but he’s not lonely. The designer keeps the company of a Birman cat named Choupette. After being asked to care for her temporarily by her owner, model Baptiste Giabiconi, Lagerfeld simply refused to give her back. The cat lives a lavish life of luxury, with two maids who tend to her and keep a daily diary of her activities and moods.
36. Feline Muse
Lagerfeld is publically devoted to his feline friend, Choupette. She is credited as his inspiration for a cornflower blue Couture collection in Spring 2012, as he has described her eyes as "blue, blue, blue, blue, blue". Choupette appeared in a ten-page spread in V Magazine with French supermodel Laetitia Casta, and in 2014 was the subject of the photo book, Choupette. She even has her own fan-run Instagram account, @choupettesdiary, with more than 197K followers.
37. Man & Cat
Lagerfeld loves to do and say shocking, larger-than-life things, but in June 2013, in an interview with CNN, his eccentricity seemed to cross a line while discussing his love for his Choupette: "There is no marriage, yet, for human beings and animals… I never thought that I would fall in love like this with a cat".
38. Coke Fiend
While Lagerfeld might not be a tippler, his drinking habits might not be entirely healthy. According to a 2012 interview with Harper’s Bazaar, he drinks up to 20 cans of Diet Coke per day! He claims, "I drink Diet Coke from the minute I get up to the minute I go to bed. I can even drink it in the middle of the night, and I can sleep. I don't drink coffee, I don't drink tea, I drink nothing else".
39. Love Lost
Karl Lagerfeld had a long-term relationship from the early 1970s with socialite Jacques de Bascher (1951–1989) until his passing in 1989. However, Lagerfeld claims he and his boyfriend of 18 years never consummated their relationship: he told French journalist Marie Ottavi, "I infinitely loved that boy but I had no physical contact with him. Of course, I was seduced by his physical charm".
40. Walk Out
In 1993, Lagerfeld caused a stir at his Milan Fashion Week runway show, when he employed exotic dancers and adult-film star Moana Pozzi to model his black-and-white collection for Fendi. The move to blend low-brow pornographic film culture and high fashion was not a popular one, and caused US Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour to walk out of the show.
Karl Lagerfeld later caused another controversy, on 31 July 2012, when he criticized Pippa Middleton, sister of Kate Middleton, for her looks. The comment was made when Lagerfeld was praising Kate Middleton for her "romantic beauty" before adding: "I don’t like the sister’s face. She should only show her back.
42. A Tragic Loss
In January 2019, Lagerfeld began to experience some health problems, and on February 18, 2019, he was admitted to the American Hospital of Paris in Neuilly-sur-Seine. The next morning, the famous designer passed on at the age of 85. It was revealed that he was battling pancreatic cancer. Lagerfeld had previously stated that in the case of his death, his cat, Choupette, would among the heirs to his reported £150m fortune.