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Karl Lagerfeld (1933-2019): A Magician with Love for Books, Men and Fashion
(Blogmensgo, gay blog of February 21, 2019) Karl Lagerfeld died the day before yesterday, on 19 February, presumably at the age of 85 and from the consequences of pancreatic cancer. The German fashion designer, author, director, publisher, photographer and illustrator had also become a world-famous advertising icon in recent decades due to his atypical and carefully studied look. Especially as a man of fashion and books, Lagerfeld had collected huge collections. But he also collected men in a much more discreet way.
Karl Lagerfeld knew how to play with his image and name: with humor, with his picture and his name. Here is the proof in this memorable interview by Karl with Karl, framed by books and in very good English, albeit with a German accent.
Through Christian Dior, Karl Lagerfeld came to fashion when he left his home country Germany in 1952 to live in Paris. Three years later, he became assistant to fashion designer Pierre Balmain and remained so until 1962, when he took on the role of a luxury contractor for many brands.
Four names dominate his work. Chloé’s fashion accessories, which he has been making since 1963. The Italian brand Fendi, which appointed him artistic director in 1965. The Chanel House, of which he was artistic director from 1982 until his death, and whose annual fashion show he never missed – except the last one, due to his illness. And finally Karl Lagerfeld, the brand of the same name, which had become synonymous with affordable luxury, while its special look made the German designer a global advertising medium.
Lagerfeld’s beloved cat Choupette also served as an important means of communication.
As a reminder, Karl Lagerfeld has also been known in France since 2008 as an advertising medium for yellow warning vests: for a prevention campaign organized by French road safety activists (see picture below). As so often, picture and slogan were humorously based on a contrast to the usual look of Lagerfeld.
Karl Lagerfeld was also a man of books and writing. Not only as a talented and productive writer, photographer and publisher, but also as a brilliant illustrator (his first profession) and passionate bookseller: he founded the 7L bookshop in Paris to satisfy his passion for books devoted to art in its forms, including those with beautiful ephebes. He was also known for his valuable and extensive antiquarian collection.
In addition to their love of books, art and culture, Yves Saint-Laurent and Lagerfeld shared the same prize (in a design competition in 1954) and loved the same man, Jacques de Bascher, whose life they shared from 1973 and 1971 to 1989 respectively.
Jacques de Bascher died of AIDS in 1989, five years after discovering his HIV status. He had not transmitted the disease to Lagerfeld, who did not share his bed and apartment. Karl Lagerfeld always claimed not to have had any sexual relationship with Jacques. A few years later, the fashion designer honored Jacques’ memory with the perfume “Jako” that he had created.
Was Karl Lagerfeld really gay? He once said that he had “done it from the age of 13 on”), but almost never mentioned it in public and believed that it was not worth it. This he declared in February 2015 in Marc-Olivier Fogiel’s program “Le Divan” on French TV:
[On the question of his homosexuality:] It has never been an issue in my life, because I have always lived in an environment where it was not an issue. For formers’ sons in the countryside, that can be a problem. I never understood why we tend to make such a big deal out of it.
In recent years he has repeatedly made strong xenophobic statements. His view on same-sex adoption and gay marriage was not based on gay activism either, but on abhorrence of conformism.
I am against gay marriage simply because in the 1960s everyone demanded the right to be different. And now, suddenly, everyone wants a bourgeois life.
Were Karl Lagerfeld and his very young male model Baptiste Giabiconi lovers? Lagerfeld made the young man from Marseille his star model in 2008 when he was only 19, and they were often seen together. The Wikipedia entry on Giabiconi, however, only lists heterosexual affairs.
When I die one day, I don’t want a funeral either. I think it’s terrible. I just want to disappear like the animals in the rainforest. It’s terrible to burden people with your remains.
How will we remember Karl Lagerfeld in fifty years? It may well be too early to speculate. Even after his death, he may still have a few surprises in store for us, perhaps through his last will and testament or through the publication of previously unpublished works that he had kept private during his lifetime.