Heroes: Karl Lagerfeld

The head of fashion and beauty partnerships at YouTube reflects on the great Karl Lagerfeld.

The world knows them as prolific and legendary. V know them as friends and family. Their luminous creativity just as bright behind the scenes, as our editor at large recalls.

Most of the world knew him as a fashion designer. But to V, Karl Lagerfeld was so much more: He was a photographer, illustrator, stylist, writer, party host, fashion show co-conspirator, muse, and unofficial mascot. At a bash V hosted in 2002 after the CFDA awards, celebrating the triple wins of Lagerfeld, Stephen Gan and Hedi Slimane (who was coincidentally given the award by David Bowie, thanks to the beloved Iman), he played bartender and literally rolled up his sleeves to mix cosmos. In the summer of 2010, when Blake Lively visited his studio in Paris to show him her personal photography, he became our ad hoc photo professor. In 2016, when he staged a Chanel fashion show in Havana, Cuba, he got on the dance floor at the afterparty and showed off his superior tango dancing skills. (Yes, Karl could tango.) It seems the only thing he couldn’t do was sit still.

When Lagerfeld died earlier this year, I went to my files and dug up a note he had written me that started, “Beau Derek…” With just these first two words, I was reminded of a thread Karl wove into everything he created: wit. “Beau Derek” was a reference to the 1980s pinup Bo Derek (no one could conjure a random reference quicker than this guy). It was also just a little bit of an insult, which was probably his favorite thing to do to people he liked.

In June, the three fashion houses that Karl helmed—Chanel, Fendi and Karl Lagerfeld—organized a memorial for 2,500 of the multi-hyphenate’s biggest devotees. Tilda Swinton, Cara Delevingne, Charlie Siem, Helen Mirren, Lil Buck and an Argentinian tango troupe all communed as the sun set over the Grand Palais on a picturesque Paris evening. The most touching part of the program was some B-roll footage of Karl repeatedly fudging a simple line of dialogue. For some reason, he couldn’t get through it. He’d switch languages by accident or start mumbling, and each time he messed up he’d laugh harder. By the end of the series of clips, he looked like a schoolboy holding his hands over his face in an uncontrollable fit of giggles. That’s how we’ll remember the greatest of our collaborators: Behind those trademark blackened sunglasses, a man who twirled his words as seamlessly as he twirled fabric, and had a laugh the whole time he did it.


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