Inside the life and career of the late Karl Lagerfeld, the controversial fashion designer who will be celebrated at the 2023 Met Gala

Inside the life and career of the late Karl Lagerfeld, the controversial fashion designer who will be celebrated at the 2023 Met Gala
  • The 2023 Met Gala theme is "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty" to honor the late designer.

  • Lagerfeld held several industry titles, including creative director for Chanel and Fendi.

  • He died in February 2019. He was 85 years old and had a reported net worth of $200 million.

Karl Lagerfeld is widely regarded as one of the most iconic people in the fashion industry.

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Karl Lagerfeld on the runway.Francois Mori / AP Images

Source: Harper's Bazaar, The New York Times

He was born Karl Otto Lagerfeldt in 1933 to a businessman and a lingerie saleswoman in Hamburg, Germany.

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Lagerfeld in 1985 at Rome's National Galley of Modern Art.Massimo Sambucetti/AP Images

Source: Morningstar, Biography

He has reportedly claimed to have been born in 1935.

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Lagerfeld in 1984 in front of sketches of his fall/winter haute couture collection for Chanel.John van Hasselt - Corbis/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Morningstar, NPR

For years, the designer would play coy about his true age. His assistant told the Associated Press in 2019 that he preferred "to scramble the tracks on his year of birth — that's part of the character."

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Carla Fendi (left), Lagerfeld (center), and Maxwell Rabb, U.S. Ambassador to Rome, (right) in 1985.Massimo Sambucetti/AP Images

Source: Premium, Associated Press, NPR

When Lagerfeld was a child, his parents moved the family to a northern rural part of Germany to avoid the rising tide of Nazism.

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Lagerfeld at the 2008 Met Gala.Evan Agostini/AP Images

Source: Biography

Lagerfeld possessed an interest in fashion at an early age, and his parents were largely supportive of his dream.

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His signature look often included driving gloves.Charles Sykes/Invision/AP Images

Source: Biography

He ultimately secured his parents' permission to move to Paris at the age of 14.

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Lagerfeld (left) and Kate Bosworth (right) attend the opening party for "Mobile Art CHANEL" in 2008.Evan Agostini/AP Images

Source: Biography

At the age of 21, he took first prize in a fashion contest for designing the best coat.

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Lagerfeld (left) and a model in his design (right) after winning the coats category in a design competition sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat in Paris in 1954.Keystone/Stringer/Getty Images

Source: Biography, Harper's Bazaar

Lagerfeld befriended fellow up-and-coming designer and contest winner Yves Saint Laurent.

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Yves Saint Laurent in his Paris atelier in 1958.AP Photo

Source: Biography

His career took off when he landed a junior assistant position with Pierre Balmain in 1955 ...

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Pictured above is French designer Pierre Balmain.Reg Lancaster/Stringer/Getty Images

Source: Harper's Bazaar

... and then a designing gig with Jean Patou.

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Pictured above is a young Karl Lagerfeld working for Jean Patou in 1958.Keystone-France/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Biography, Harper's Bazaar

He worked with Patou for five years before temporarily trading a career in couture for one in ready-to-wear.

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Lagerfeld in his studio in 1987.Pierre Guillaud/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Biography, Harper's Bazaar, The New York Times

He bounced around transforming labels all over the industry through freelance jobs. Chloé was one that stuck in 1964 — he was there for more than 10 years.

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Pictured above is Lagerfeld working with his designs at the Chloé studio in Paris.Pierre Vauthey/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Biography, Harper's Bazaar, The New York Times

A job at Fendi followed soon after — the company brought him in to revamp its "boring" brand while he was still working at Chloé.

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Pictured above is Lagerfeld with the five Fendi sisters. From left to right: In the front row is Carla, Karl, and Alda. In the second row is Franca, Anna, and Paola.Vittoriano Rastelli/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: The New York Times

Through his approach of shaving, coloring, and transforming furs, he introduced the concept of "Fun Fur" — which is reportedly where the iconic double-F Fendi logo got its start — to high fashion.

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Lagerfeld accepting applause after a 2015 Fendi runway show in Paris.Venturelli/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: The New York Times

In 1982, Lagerfeld said goodbye to Chloé and — in 1983 — hello to the house of Chanel.

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Cara Delevingne (left) and Lagerfeld (right) after a 2014 Chanel show in Paris.Jacques Brinon/AP Images

Source: Harper's Bazaar, The New York Times

His first show with the house was in 1984.

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Lagerfeld on the steps of the Paris Opera surrounded by models who walked in his 1984 Chanel show.Pierre Guillaud/AFP via Getty Images

Source: Harper's Bazaar

He can be credited with the revival of the iconic fashion house started by Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel when he reimagined its ready-to-wear line in the early '80s.

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Lagerfeld during Paris Fashion Week in 2013.Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Biography

He was warned against joining the house and reportedly told The New York Times, "Everybody said, 'Don't touch it, it's dead, it will never come back.' But by then I thought it was a challenge."

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Lagerfeld took on Chanel against the advice of his peers.Francois Mori/AP Images

Source: Business of Fashion

Lagerfeld took that challenge and ran with it. He is most known for amplifying the original design concepts put forth by Coco Chanel, adding his own flair and twists reflecting the changing times.

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He made the brand his own while paying homage to its founder.Francois Mori / AP Images

Source: Business of Fashion, NPR

"[Chanel was] a sleeping beauty. Not even a beautiful one. She snored," he said in the 2007 documentary "Lagerfeld Confidential." "So I was to revive a dead woman."

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Lagerfeld waving to the audience after a runway show.Christophe Ena / AP Images

Source: CNN

NPR's Susan Stamberg once described Chanel and the Karl Lagerfeld effect in 2005. She talked about the classic and timeless appeal of the original house, adding, "The real Lagerfeld part: the illusion of unraveling wool, laced with color, at the skirt and cuffs."

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Models walk the Chanel runway in 2014.Reuters

Source: NPR

In 1984, he launched his own eponymous label around the motif of "intellectual sexiness."

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He developed his own brand, which also evolved over time.Christian Vierig/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Biography

In 2005, Lagerfeld sold the brand to the Tommy Hilfiger Group, but he continued as chief creative director.

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Lagerfeld at the end of a 1991 Chanel show in Paris.Pool Arnal/Garcia/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Business of Fashion

The first brick-and-mortar shop for the brand opened in Doha, Qatar, in 2015.

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A sign outside a Karl Lagerfeld store in London.John Phillips/Stringer/Getty Images

Source: Biography

The designer's namesake brand exudes an "effortless, rock-chic" vibe — somewhat different from the other labels he designed for.

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The brand did a collaboration with model Kaia Gerber.Donato Sardella/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Karl Lagerfeld the brand

In 2018, he launched a line in collaboration with model Kaia Gerber. It's been described as a mash-up of the two icons: part Malibu and part Paris.

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Lagerfeld (left), Kaia Gerber (center), and Pier Paolo Righi (right) in 2018 at the collection's launch.Francois Durand/Stringer/Getty Images

Source: Harper's BAZAAR

Despite his reputation, Lagerfeld wasn't opposed to working with brands considered to be out of the realm of luxury or high fashion.

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Lily-Rose Depp (left) and Lagerfeld (right) at the WWD Honors in 2017.Evan Agostini/Invision/AP Images

Source: Biography

In 2004, he collaborated with H&M, which set the stage for future fast-fashion collaborations with brands and designers like Stella McCartney, Comme des Garcons, Versace, Maison Martin Margiela, and most recently, Jeremy Scott's Moschino.

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Lagerfeld collaborated with H&M on a line.AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Source: CNN, NPR, W Magazine

And in 2011, he designed a capsule collection for Macy's.

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Lagerfeld (left) and Anna Wintour (right) at Macy's in 2011.Ben Gabbe/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Fashionista, Biography

Also in 2011, Lagerfeld designed a glassware line for Orrefors.

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Lagerfeld sitting in front of his glassware collection.Orrefors/YouTube

Source: Architectural Digest

Throughout it all, he was known as both a collector and an auctioneer — he'd gather up things like furniture, books, and real estate for their connection to the aesthetic of their time, and then auction them off in a seemingly emotionally disconnected way.

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Lagerfeld arrives at the 2015 British Fashion Awards in London.Jonathan Short/Invision/AP Images

Source: The New York Times

According to The Times, people who knew him said he did the same with some personal relationships.

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He was reportedly known to show little emotion in some situations.Tony Gutierrez/AP Images

Source: The New York Times

His spending habits landed him the label of a "squanderer." To that, he said: "If you throw money out of the window throw it out with joy. Don't say: 'One shouldn't do that' — that is bourgeois."

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Lagerfeld after his Chanel spring/summer 2019 ready-to-wear collection presentation.Christophe Ena/AP Images

Source: NPR, Vogue

He also found himself at the center of controversy when it came to the way he spoke. He voiced views on people's appearance, models, and the #MeToo movement.

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His comments have been called "cruel."Remy de la Mauviniere/AP Images

Source: NPR, Model Alliance, Numéro, BuzzFeed

He also took a dig at Heidi Klum in 2009 when he said: "Heidi is no runway model. She is simply too heavy and has too big a bust. And she always grins so stupidly. That is not avant-garde — that is commercial!"

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Model and TV personality, Heidi Klum.Reuters

Source: Fashionista

He was also critical of his own weight at times.

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He once lost weight to "be a good clotheshorse," according to The Telegraph.Martin Meissner / AP Images

Source: The Telegraph

Around the early 2000s, he wanted to wear suits by Hedi Slimane — which had a slim fit — so he lost 92 pounds in a year.

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Lagerfeld (left) and Hedi Slimane (right).Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: The Telegraph, The New Yorker

In fact, he ended up writing a book about his diet titled "The Karl Lagerfeld Diet." In the book, he talked about his love for Diet Coke and toast, calling toast "the height of luxury" and "the most delicious thing in the world."

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Lagerfeld celebrating the launch of limited edition Diet Coke bottles in 2011.BERTRAND LANGLOIS/Stringer/Getty Images

Source: Insider, The Guardian, Harper's Bazaar

His history of working with fur has also placed him at the center of some animal-rights controversy.

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Three PETA activists outside a Karl Lagerfeld store in 1997.Alain BUU/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: The New York Times, PEOPLE

PETA referred to the designer as its "nemesis" in a tweet that was meant to announce the "end of an era" that celebrated fur in fashion, and to send condolences to his family after his passing.

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Lagerfeld was known for his use of furs.Lionel Cironneau/AP Images

Source: PETA UK Twitter

His career extended into the entertainment industry as well — he served as a costume designer, director, actor, and even writer in a number of films.

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Lagerfeld had many facets to his career.harles Sykes/Invision/AP Images

Source: IMDB

In the world of fashion, Lagerfeld was known for his timely taste and of-the-moment designs. But he also appreciated and paid homage to trends and styles of the past.

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Lagerfeld (left) and Princess Caroline of Hanover (right).Valery Hache/AP Images

Source: Biography

He was reportedly known for shopping at flea markets where he'd buy old wedding dresses, deconstruct them, and then reimagine them completely.

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He was known for his creativity and innovative designs.Keystone-France/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Biography

He cultivated a specific persona for himself that became iconic. His dark glasses and ponytail, in particular, dated back to the late '70s.

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Lagerfeld's now legendary look.Christophe Ena/AP Images

Source: Harper's Bazaar, Vogue

"I am like a caricature of myself, and I like that," he said. "It is like a mask. And for me the Carnival of Venice lasts all year long."

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He created his own character and stuck to it.Francois Mori / AP Images

Source: Vogue

In terms of his personal life, Lagerfeld had an 18-year relationship with Jacques de Bascher. De Bascher died from complications from AIDS in 1989.

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Lagerfeld (left) and Jacques De Bascher in 1977.WWD/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: The Mirror

The fashion designer is survived by his Instagram-famous cat, Choupette. In 2013, Lagerfeld told CNN, "There is no marriage, yet, for human beings and animals ... I never thought I would fall in love like this with a cat."

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Lagerfeld in front of a photo of his cat, Choupette.Franziska Krug/Getty Images

Source: CNN

He has said Choupette is the more famous of the two of them: "She has become the most famous cat in the world. I even get propositioned by pet food companies and things like that, but it's out of the question. I'm commercial. She's not. She's spoiled to death. Obviously."

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Lagerfeld autographs a sketch of his cat, Choupette.Jens Kalaene/picture alliance via Getty Images

Source: Vogue

He said the Birman breed cat, who has 226,000 followers on Instagram, would be one of the heirs to his fortune, adding, "Don't worry, there is enough for everyone."

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He left some of his fortune to Choupette in his will.Jens Kalaene/picture alliance via Getty Images

Source: Insider, Choupette Lagerfeld Instagram

His death sparked tributes from fashion icons around the world.

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Lagerfeld (left) and Grace Coddington (right).Francois Mori / AP Images

Source: Harper's Bazaar

"Thanks to his creative genius, generosity and exceptional intuition, Karl Lagerfeld was ahead of his time, which widely contributed to the House of Chanel's success throughout the world," Chanel CEO Alain Wertheimer said in a statement to CNN.

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Lagerfeld sketching at the Chanel studio in Paris in 1984.John van Hasselt - Corbis/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: CNN

Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of Fendi owner LVMH, said in a statement: "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 ... We owe him a great deal: his taste and talent were the most exceptional I have ever known."

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Bernard Arnault is not pictured here.LIONEL BONAVENTURE/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: NPR

Donatella Versace wrote in an Instagram caption: "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."

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Lagerfeld (left) and Donatella Versace (right) in 2008.Patrick McMullan/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Donatella Versace Instagram

On September 30, Vogue announced that the Metropolitan Museum of Art's spring 2023 Costume Institute exhibition will honor the designer with the theme "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty."

Blake Lively and Karl Lagerfeld
Blake Lively (left) and Lagerfeld (right) at the 2011 Met Gala.Evan Agostini/AP Photo

Source: Vogue

Since its announcement, some people have taken to social media to express their disappointment in the choice of the exhibition, citing Lagerfeld's racism, fatphobia, xenophobia, and opposition to the #MeToo movement.

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Lagerfeld (left) and Anna Wintour (right), a chairperson of the annual Met Gala.Jonathan Short/Invision/AP Photo

Source: BuzzFeed

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