clock menu more-arrow no yes

Karl Lagerfeld, the iconic Chanel designer, is dead at 85

He’d worked at the legendary fashion house for more than 30 years.

Designer Karl Lagerfeld at the Dior Homme Menswear Fall/Winter 2016-2017 during Paris Fashion Week on January 23, 2016.
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Karl Lagerfeld, the legendary German fashion designer who spent decades as the creative director of Chanel, died Tuesday, February 19, in Paris. He was 85 years old.

Lagerfeld had been working up until his death but was sick in recent weeks. In January, he missed Chanel’s couture fashion show, with the brand attributing his noticeable absence to tiredness.

“With the passing of Karl Lagerfeld we have lost a creative genius who helped to make Paris the fashion capital of the world and Fendi one of the most innovative Italian houses,” Bernard Arnault, the CEO of the luxury fashion conglomerate LVMH, said in a statement. “We owe him a great deal: his taste and talent were the most exceptional I have ever known.”

Lagerfeld was arguably the world’s most visible living designer. He had driven the creative vision at Chanel since he joined the company in 1983, and worked as the creative director of the Italian fashion house Fendi. His signature look — dressing all in black, with leather gloves, sunglasses, and white hair worn in a ponytail — made him a recognizable and celebrated character in fashion.

On Tuesday, upon hearing the news of his death, people from all corners of the fashion world mourned him, from Off-White’s Virgil Abloh to Donatella Versace to David Beckham, proving the full scope of the designer’s global influence.

Born Karl-Otto Lagerfeldt, he grew up near Hamburg and was friends with the storied French designer Yves Saint Laurent in his early career days, per Business of Fashion. He worked at several fashion houses in his early career, including Balmain and Chloé, before landing a job at Fendi, which he held for about 50 years.

He took the reins at Chanel a decade after its founding designer died. In his words, from the 2007 documentary Lagerfeld Confidential, Chanel was “a sleeping beauty. Not even a beautiful one. She snored. I was to revive a dead woman.” Thanks largely to Lagerfeld’s influence, Chanel is one of the most iconic and desirable fashion brands on the market.

Lagerfeld was known to have an outspoken personality. He had opinions on everything from sweatpants (“a sign of defeat”) to fur (“In a meat-eating world wearing leather for shoes and even clothes, the discussion of fur is childish”) — as well as some outdated opinions on topics like the #MeToo movement (“If you don’t want your pants pulled about, don’t become a model!”). These were opinions that were not always celebrated. Nevertheless, his creativity and longevity lionized him in the fashion world.

According to WWD, Lagerfeld’s position at Chanel will be taken over by Virginie Viard, the brand’s studio director and a close collaborator of the designer for more than 30 years.