The fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld has died aged 85, his label, Chanel, has said.
As one of the most prolific and admired designers of modern times, Lagerfeld’s influence on the fashion industry is unparalleled. Known fondly in fashion circles as “the Kaiser” thanks to his German heritage, he was famously uncompromising in his design vision, once declaring: “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.”
In January he missed the Chanel haute couture show in Paris, fuelling speculation about his health. According to reports, he was admitted to the American hospital in Paris on Monday night. The cause of death is not yet known.
The designer Donatella Versace posted a photograph of herself and Lagerfeld on Instagram, writing: “Karl your genius touched the lives of so many, especially Gianni and I. We will never forget your incredible talent and endless inspiration. We were always learning from you.”
Lagerfeld began his career as an assistant to Pierre Balmain in 1955 and joined Chanel in 1983, spending 36 years at the house. In the interim, he has also held long-term design positions at the Italian house Fendi, the French house Chloé, and established his eponymous brand.
He is credited with reinventing Chanel, taking it from a small house to an industry leader. In 2017 the house released financial figures for the first time, revealing it had made £1.35bn the previous year.
At the couture show in January his righthand woman, Virginie Viard – seen by many as his natural successor – appeared hand in hand with the season’s couture bride. The house released a statement at the time saying Lagerfeld was “feeling tired” and it was his request that Viard “represent him and greet the guests”.
Over the years, Lagerfeld’s personal style became as famous as his designs, confirming his status as a cultural icon. His ice-white ponytail, dark sunglasses and black leather gloves became his style signatures, as did his black tailored suits. His favourites were the slimline style by the designer Hedi Slimane while he was at Dior. In another famous quote he once said: “I lost 200lb to wear suits by Hedi Slimane.”
While Lagerfeld had many friends, he kept his personal life private. His most famous companion was his cat, Choupette, who the designer made into a celebrity pet, complete with its own Instagram account.
Despite his declining health, Lagerfeld kept tight control of his work. He was scheduled to be present for fittings this week for the forthcoming Chanel womenswear show on 5 March – indicative of his life-long work ethic.
“I hate leisure,” the designer told Women’s Wear Daily in 2008, “except reading. I’m really a person made to work, if sketching is considered work. I’m pretty lucky to be doing what I’m doing in beyond-perfect conditions.”