Chanel fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld dies aged 85 after cancer battle

Fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld has died aged 85 after a cancer battle.

The iconic designer, who was the creative director of Chanel, is believed to have been unwell for two weeks before his death in a Paris hospital.

According to sources close to him, Lagerfeld was rushed to hospital on Monday while suffering from pancreatic cancer.

"He hadn’t gone on about his illness, but battled it very bravely," said one insider. "Karl was very proud of his fitness and healthy living, so the pancreatic cancer came as a huge shock."

Another source in Paris said: "The state of his health had been a cause of concern for a number of weeks.

"He had not been seen at fashion shows that he was expected to attend. Karl was admitted to hospital on Monday, and died on Tuesday morning."

He had missed two of Chanel’s haute couture Paris shows in on January 22, but the fashion company only said at the time he was feeling tired.

In a statement read out after he missed the second show, it said: "Mr Lagerfeld, artistic director of Chanel, who was feeling tired, asked Virginie Viard, director of the creative studio of the house, to represent him."

It was the first time he had ever missed giving a catwalk bow at the end of a Chanel show.

Karl Lagerfeld dead: How Chanel designer leaves beloved and VERY famous cat Choupette an orphan 

Karl would often bring his beloved cat, Choupette, to his appearances, and even based several designs on her.

He set up an Instagram account – Choupette’s Diary – and would upload streams of content of her daily activities, from flying with him on his private jet to basking in his mansion.

The white-haired Birman, described by her social network minders as "daughter of Karl Otto Lagerfeld", has more than 100,000 Instagram followers and a publishing deal.


Karl has presided over the iconic fashion house, established by Coco Chanel, for more than three decades, producing as much as eight collections a year – to the joy of fashion editors, fans and collectors.

"I am like a caricature of myself, and I like that," runs one legendary quote attributed to him, and often recycled to convey the person he liked to play.

"It is like a mask. And for me the Carnival of Venice lasts all year long."


He was best known for his signature outfit: a black suit with his white hair pushed into a ponytail, fingerless gloves and dark glasses.

Talk had already turned in recent weeks to who could succeed Karl when he eventually stepped down from Chanel. Virginie Viard, director of the creative studio of the house of Chanel, has already been speculated as his eventual successor.

As yet, no cause of death has been confirmed.

Karl was inspired to go into fashion when he accompanied his mother to a Dior fashion show in 1933, and would draw fashion designs as a young child.

He was offered the job at Chanel in 1985 – but had huge reservations.

"At that time, I already had a good reputation, I was doing Fendi and Chloe. I had been warned, ‘Do not take Chanel, it’s awful," he told Madame Figaro magazine.

"When I arrived, she [Coco] had been dead for 10 years and everyone lived in the respect of her memory. If you want to kill a house, show [her] respect."

A spokesman for Chanel was not immediately available for comment.

Tributes have begun flooding in across the fashion industry.

Designer Henry Holland tweeted: "To design is to breathe, so if I can’t breathe I’m in trouble" RIP @KarlLagerfeld."

And Hollywood actress Diane Kruger wrote on Instagram: "Karl…..I cannot tell you how much you meant to me and how much I will miss you – I will never forget your kindness towards me, your laughs, your imagination – I came to France to see you this week and introduce you to my daughter…I’m heartbroken I was too late – Rest In Peace, I adore you."

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Karl Lagerfeld obituary

Karl Lagerfeld enjoyed the stature of a god among mortals in the world of fashion, where he stayed on top for well over half of a century and up to his death, at an age almost nobody apart from himself knew with to-the-day precision.

The German designer was best known for his association with France’s Chanel, dating back to 1983. The brand, the legend now goes, risked becoming the preserve of monied grannies before he arrived, slashing hemlines and adding glitz to the prim tweed suits of what is now one of the world’s most valuable couture houses.

But Lagerfeld, who simultaneously churned out collections for LVMH’s Fendi and his eponymous label – an unheard of feat in fashion – was almost a brand in his own right.

Sporting dark suits, white, pony-tailed hair and tinted sunglasses in his later years that made him instantly recognisable, an irreverent wit was also part of a carefully crafted persona.

"I am like a caricature of myself, and I like that," runs one legendary quote attributed to him, and often recycled to convey the person he liked to play. "It is like a mask. And for me the Carnival of Venice lasts all year long."

His artistic instincts, business acumen and commensurate ego combined to commercially triumphant effect in the rarefied world of high fashion, where he was revered and feared in similar proportions by competitors and top-models.

A refusal to look to the past was one of his biggest assets, those who knew him said.

The designer mingled with the young and trendy until the last, pairing up with 17-year-old catwalk darling Kaia Gerber, daughter of Cindy Crawford, for a collaboration released by his Karl Lagerfeld brand in 2018.

His cat Choupette moved with the times too: the white-haired Birman, described by her social network minders as "daughter of Karl Otto Lagerfeld", has more than 100,000 Instagram photo-network followers and a publishing deal.

Yet Lagerfeld also stood out as a craftsman. An accomplished photographer, he drew his own designs by hand, an increasingly rare phenomenon in fashion. Behind the facade, he was known for his erudition and penchant for literature, and he devoured the world’s leading newspapers daily.

Though he long enjoyed befuddling interviewers by citing different years of birth, the one deemed the most reliable is September 10, 1933.

Lagerfeld – dubbed "Kaiser Karl" and "Fashion Meister" among a whole host of media monikers – was born in Hamburg to a German mother and a Swedish father who imported condensed milk.

He spent early childhood tucked away from war in the 1,200-acre family estate in Bavaria and had a French tutor.

The big breakthrough came shortly after a move to Paris when, in 1954, he drew a wool coat that won a prize and landed him an apprenticeship with designer Pierre Balmain.

Yves Saint Laurent, who went on to found his namesake label, won the dress prize. The two became fierce competitors and even rivals in love at one point, chasing the affections of late Parisian society figure Jacques de Bascher.

Saint Laurent, who died in 2008, became the enfant cheri of high society and Lagerfeld leader of a wild-child younger group.

He first found real success in the mid-1960s with Chloe, the fashion label now owned by Switzerland’s Richemont and to which he was connected off and on until 1997.

But it was Chanel that propelled him to rock-star status, as he sexed up the brand and lifted its profile with grandiose runway shows. In the past year these have featured a full-scale beach and an enormous replica ship.

Lagerfeld was as harsh with his fashion models as he was searingly critical of anyone he considered "not trendy".

He fired his closest female friend, former Chanel model Ines de la Fressange, in 1999 after she agreed to pose as Marianne, France’s national symbol, without asking him first.

Occasionally his sharp tongue has stirred controversies, though he also had a flair for a good soundbite.

"I’m a kind of fashion nymphomaniac who never gets an orgasm," he said in 1984, asked about what he felt after a fashion show.

In a rare climbdown, he half-apologised to Oscar-winner movie actress Meryl Streep after once suggesting she had refused to wear a dress designed by him at an awards ceremony in favour of another she wanted to be paid to wear.

Lagerfeld, who moonlighted as a cartoonist in Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, took a dig at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s pro-refugee stance in a 2017 sketch that blamed her for helping a far-right party gain parliamentary seats.

The designer was not afraid of breaking the mould within often-pompous couture circles. He teamed up with high street brand H&M in 2004 for limited edition collections, a move that raised eyebrows and was then quickly copied by others.

His appearance changed over the years along with his affectations, such as a fan he at one time carried and fluttered incessantly.

Known to adore Diet Coke, Lagerfeld said he shed weight in the early 2000s to fit into the razor-thin suits brought in by Christian Dior’s then menswear designer Hedi Slimane.

In rare moments when he was not working, Lagerfeld retired to one of his many homes in Paris, Germany, Italy or Monaco, all of them lavish carbon copies of 18th-century interiors.

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