Look up any occasion or situation and chances are that fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld had something to say about it. The German designer, who passed away in Paris on Tuesday at the age of 85, was one of fashion’s most flamboyant and colourful characters, never mind he was perpetually dressed in dark suits, black gloves and tinted sunglasses, in sharp contrast with his all-white pony-tailed hair. The creative director of Chanel, Fendi and his own eponymous label, admired as much for his design genius as for his personal flair and flagrance, courted couture and controversy with equal aplomb in the nearly six decades of his design career.
Couturier, photographer, artist, filmmaker and caricaturist — Lagerfeld was a man of many talents. “Youthfulness is about how you live, not when you were born,” he famously said. No wonder the veteran’s vision on fashion was full of vigour and he surrounded himself with young talent. Designers in the country talk about the lasting legacy of the iconic designer. “Rarely can designers continue to stay topical and move with the times, while retaining their identity; to do so for six decades is simply unique,” says Nachiket Barve, adding, “What I admired about him, apart from the sheer prolific imagination, vision and enthusiasm for fashion, was the detachment and self-deprecating attitude he had towards the field and also his work.”
For one of India’s more flamboyant couturier Suneet Varma, Lagerfeld wasn’t just a great designer, but he was the big daddy of fashion the world over. “He has influenced many generations of designers, stylists, clients and trend forecasters worldwide. He had the uncanny ability of thinking far ahead into the future. He was always thinking of tomorrow. It takes tremendous energy and a brilliant mind to be as prolific as he was,” says Varma.
Lagerfeld, whose big India moment came with his pre-fall 2011-12 Paris-Bombay Metiers d’Art collection, had self-admittedly, never been to India. He dedicated the collection to the craftspeople who manufactured for Chanel and presented Nehru jackets interpretations, Mughal prints, sari-pallu trains, churidar pants, dupatta-like scarves, maang tikkas in India’s favourite festive hues — rani pink and gold. The set-up at the Grand Palais, in true showman style, was ornate and larger-than-life.
India’s very own showman Gaurav Gupta calls him the Michael Jackson of fashion. “He wasn’t just an icon of fashion, but epitomised an era. He transcended the boundaries of high fashion, taste, culture and values. He was constantly breaking rules, making new rules, setting down paths for fashion to grow. He was an institution in himself. And surprisingly, he always retained his innocence and zest. He followed his passions like art and photography and always aimed to move with the times, mingling with a younger and happening crowd. The magnitude of his Chanel shows made the fashion dream large and, in turn, made it a reality,” says Gupta, who calls him a “rare phenomenon”.
Karishma Swali of couture label Jade, whose parent company Chanakya International Private Limited has provided their embroidery and embellishment services to Lagerfeld in the past, has fleeting memories of the design doyen. “We had the honour of having witnessed the pure creative genius of Karl Lagerfeld at Fendi. His incredible spirit liberated fashion and inspired the world in unimaginable ways,” says Swali, in tribute.
In his indomitable way, Lagerfeld is believed to have been instructing his teams till the very end, readying for the Fendi Fall ready-to-wear collection due to take place in Milan on Thursday. He never confirmed the news of a suspected battle with pancreatic cancer, but signs of declining health came when he failed to take a bow at Chanel’s couture show in January.