Legendary fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld dies at age 85

Key Points
  • Karl Lagerfeld was recognizable for his white pony tail and dark suits and glasses.
  • In 2000, he slimmed down his look, losing 93 pounds, and writing a best-selling book about his diet.
  • He became creative director of privately owned Chanel in 1983 and the following year created his eponymous fashion house, while continuing to work with both Chanel and Fendi.
Karl Lagerfeld at the switching on of the Christmas lights on the Champs Elysees in Paris, on November 22, 2018
Stephane Cardinale - Corbis | Getty Images

Karl Lagerfeld, the iconic Chanel fashion designer, has died at age 85.

He passed away after a short illness, a statement given to Reuters said.

Chanel called Lagerfeld "an extraordinary creative individual" in a release emailed to CNBC. "Karl Lagerfeld reinvented the brand's codes created by (founder) Gabrielle Chanel: the Chanel jacket and suit, the little black dress, the precious tweeds, the two-tone shoes, the quilted handbags, the pearls and costume jewelry. Regarding Gabrielle Chanel, he said, 'My job is not to do what she did, but what she would have done. The good thing about Chanel is it is an idea you can adapt to many things,'" the release added.

Alain Wertheimer, Chanel's chief executive, said in the release: "Today, not only have I lost a friend, but we have all lost an extraordinary creative mind to whom I gave carte blanche in the early 1980s to reinvent the brand."

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Tributes poured in from the world of haute couture.

Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of LVMH, the conglomerate that runs fashion house Fendi, called Lagerfeld a "creative genius." Lagerfeld led Chanel's design and had been the creative head at Fendi since 1965.

"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. Artistic director of Jean Patou in 1959, creator of Fendi since 1965, member of the LVMH Prize jury since its creation in 2013, he honored the LVMH group with an extraordinarily stimulating creative and entrepreneurial friendship," Arnault said.

New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman tweeted: "In honor of Karl Lagerfeld, who died today, some of his indelible quotes and quips: 'Sweatpants are a sign of defeat;' 'I'm very much down to earth. Just not this earth;'"


Italian designer Donatella Versace also praised Lagerfeld's talent, writing on Instagram: "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."

British designer Victoria Beckham wrote: "So incredibly sad to hear this. Karl was a genius and always so kind and generous to me both personally and professionally. RIP x vb."

Lagerfeld was born in Hamburg, Germany, on Sept. 10, 1933. At just 17, he landed a job as an assistant to French designer Pierre Balmain.

By 1962, he had a freelance career working for a variety of designers in France, Italy, England and Germany.

He began working with Italian fashion house Fendi in 1965 and continued as its creative director until his death. He became creative director of privately owned Chanel in 1983 and the following year created his eponymous fashion house, while continuing to work with Chanel and Fendi.

In the late 1980s he began shooting his own fashion campaigns, and many of his images were published in books by Steidl.

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Lagerfeld was also a renowned illustrator, producing 60 illustrations for a 1992 edition of "The Emperor's New Clothes," by Hans Christian Andersen.

He was recognizable for his white pony tail, high starched white collars, dark suits and glasses. In 2000, he slimmed down his look, losing 93 pounds, and wrote a best-selling book about his diet, "The Karl Lagerfeld Diet."

In 2011, he was given a white-haired cat, Choupette, by French model Baptiste Giabiconi. The cat has become a famous face in the fashion world, garnering her own social media following, participating in some campaigns and even has her own set of personal maids. In 2017, Lagerfeld created a collection called "Karl the Photographer" featuring self portraits of him and his cat on a range of bags and accessories.

In 2017, Lagerfeld was awarded Paris' highest honor, the La Medaille Grand Vermeil de la Ville de Paris. That year, he also designed two suites at the city's Hotel de Crillon, and in 2018, designed a "six-star" hotel in Macau in his name.

Reuters said Virginie Viard, Chanel's deputy artistic director, will become chief designer, following Lagerfeld's death.

—CNBC's Alexandra Gibbs contributed to this article.