An Ode to Karl

“I’m very much down to earth, just not this earth.”

 Sunglasses, black and opaque. Perfectly pressed starch collars. A tightly manicured ponytail. And a pursed half-frown-half-smile that expresses both sincerity and secrecy.

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 I never had the pleasure of meeting Karl Lagerfeld in person. But in many ways, I knew him all too well. Well-groomed, poised, and an epitome of sophistication; a twentieth century gentleman enraptured by the anthill of glamour. He was a gentleman best known for his dignified look and fashion expertise, who inhabited a different plane by happenstance – to the point, succinct, and wry, much like his designs. For Karl, words were an insufficient means by which to capture the thoughts in his busy mind, which can be readily seen across biographical accounts. Yet he managed to embody the voice of a cultural epoch. 

To leave a legacy after death is the greatest ambition of the world’s cultural icons. Music, fashion, art, entertainment – while different on the surface, they invite many of the same curious characters to their ranks. And in the cast of life, we require curious characters. They push that dormant button of empathic understanding inside. Thinking, behaving, and appearing different are all fostered by the turning gears of cultural zeitgeist. And every cultural industry depends on many of the same core ingredients: courage, authenticity, uniqueness, and most significantly, talent. Unadulterated talent (in its rawest form) serves as the backbone for cultural skeletons. While many have (and will continue to) critique Karl’s scandalous outbursts, commitment to fur, or even his Peter Pan-esque desire to hide his birth year, none may criticize the density of his backbone. From Chloé to Fendi, from Chanel to his eponymous brand, the man’s talent resonated from stitch to stitch. And for that, society is infinitely grateful. 

Creative genius, by its nature, relies on effervescence. Fashion proves no different, nor does the invention of personal creativity. While what’s in vogue may seem fleeting, Lagerfeld’s own creative genius withstood the test of generations and time. Beyond this, Lagerfeld’s vision has stretched across multiple couture houses, each with their own hang-ups and values. Since his early work with Pierre Balmain, Gaby Aghion at Chloé, Tiziani under Evan Richards, and many others within his sixty-plus year tenure in the fashion wheelhouse, Lagerfeld’s mythic ethos grew beyond the confines of one brand, market, or collection.

So then, what does a composite sequence of effervescent icons look like? Sunglasses, black and opaque. Perfectly pressed starch collars. A tightly manicured ponytail. And a pursed half-frownhalf-smile that expresses both sincerity and secrecy. Subliminally, even if fashion means nothing to you, a mental image burns in your mind of one powerful silhouette.

Kudos to Karl, and may he rest in peace. 

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Photographed by VITAL AGIBALOW for HENSEL in 2011

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