Unravelling the myth that is Karl Lagerfeld

by Meagan Dill

You only need to take one look at Karl Lagerfeld to recognise the undeniable fact that he oozes cool. His uniform: a suit (black from head to toe), leather fingerless gloves, a black tie with a brooch, and of course the ever-present sunglasses. His shocking white hair, pulled back, contrasts with the suit and makes for a dazzling first impression. Varying only a little from day to day, this uniform speaks volumes about the man who wears it. He is an enigma, an eccentric, and an artist.

Currently, he heads up the Chanel empire, as well as that of Fendi along with his own fashion label simply called “Karl Lagerfeld”. He is notorious for his alternative perspective on various issues, which sometimes seems at odds with the fashion world – and yet he remains nothing less than an icon within that very world.

Affectionately nicknamed “the Kaiser”, Lagerfeld’s influence on fashion (and beyond) is immense, although he is not necessarily always welcomed with a smile in the industry. For example, he famously offended US Vogue editor and fashion legend Anna Wintour at a showing of a 1993 collection for Fendi. She took objection to the fact that he had used strippers and an adult film star as models and stormed out of the show in protest. Today, says Lagerfeld, the two are on good terms. Still, this sort of risky decision is typical of Lagerfeld. He is outspoken about many things, and sexuality, naturally, is not excluded. In a 2012 interview with Vice magazine, he comments, “I admire porn. And I personally only like high-class escorts. I don’t like sleeping with people I really love. I don’t want to sleep with them because sex cannot last, but affection can last forever. I think this is healthy. And for the way the rich live, this is possible. But the other world, I think they need porn.”

In the same interview, Lagerfeld also expresses a disapproval of gay marriage – again, an unusual position for someone in fashion, an industry typically supportive of homosexual rights. “I’m against it for a very simple reason,” he explains. “In the 60s they all said we had the right to the difference. And now, suddenly, they want a bourgeois life.”

Still, having a few controversial opinions doesn’t seem to be doing Lagerfeld any harm – at least not in the long run. In fact, over time, these opinions only seem to increase the fascination surrounding him. And besides, what would an artist be without his oddities? Though Lagerfeld has stated that he does not consider fashion to be synonymous with art, many would label him as a kind of artist nonetheless. Generally speaking, nobody minds if an artist is a little strange just as long as the genius of their work remains intact. 

History shows that this is something we can trust Lagerfeld to uphold, and he shows no sign of slowing down. His latest collection for Chanel was met with many positive reviews. Garments that put emphasis on the shoulders were the basis of the collection, and each model wore a large feathered headpiece along with dark, dramatic eye make-up. The result? The most beautiful wild creatures you’ve ever seen. To add to the magic, the show took place on a runway styled as a path in a forest. Still, it just wouldn’t be a Lagerfeld show without a bit of shock, and he did not let his fans down. This time, it is the finale of the show that has been the source of much discussion. Instead of Chanel’s traditional wedding dress finale, Lagerfeld chose to finish off with two finale wedding gowns at once, with the two models holding hands as they walked down the runway. This appears to send some kind of a message of support to the gay community, and yet, as we know, Lagerfeld has spoken out explicitly against gay marriage.

While this may appear to be a complete contradiction, it can only be put down as a typical Lagerfeld move: part and parcel of his personality. Unlike many other public figures, he presents himself as a real and genuine person; one with real opinions, real thoughts, and one who never censors himself.

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