Karl For Ever: Inside The Memorial For The Greatest Showman

'Karl Lagerfeld often said when he died he wanted to disappear. Well, that cannot happen…'

Karl Lagerfeld memorial

by Rebecca Lowthorpe |

It was never going to be a quiet affair. Too many people loved him and besides, he was the greatest showman the fashion world has ever seen. Remembering Karl Lagerfeld, who died in February this year aged 85, without fanfare would have been unthinkable – even if the man himself would have probably loathed it, all the fuss, pomp and ceremony. As the late godfather of fashion put it in one of the many video clips shown at his memorial last Friday in Paris: ‘When people show their ass it doesn’t bother me. When people show their feelings, it bothers me.’

The blockbuster event, titled ‘Karl For Ever’, was held at the Grand Palais, venue of his countless Chanel extravaganzas, the ancient palace he once transformed into a supermarket, a space center with a rocket launch pad, a mainframe computer, or filled it with icebergs, sea and snow. Celebrating a life as large as Karl Lagerfeld’s requires monumental ingredients.

So, the venue was wallpapered with 56 towering portraits of the man, the floor was carpeted with vast custom-made rugs, a Steinway Grand piano that Lagerfeld designed had its own platform while the main stage saw a rotating cast of movie, music and dance stars, including Tilda Swinton, Helen Mirren, Cara Delevingne, Pharrell Williams, dancer Lil Buck, violinist Charlie Siem, pianist Lang Lang and a troupe of tango dancers. Karl, it turns out, was an exceptional tango dancer. Two thousand guests were treated to the 90-minute spectacle, organized by the houses of Chanel, Fendi and Karl Lagerfeld (his three chief freelance posts) and orchestrated by the Canadian theatre and opera director Robert Carsen.

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Pharrel Williams performed a tribute at the memorial

Pharrel Williams performed at the memorial
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Sixty friends of Lagerfeld’s had been pre-interviewed on camera and spoke from giant screens, kicking off with Anna Wintour: ‘Karl Lagerfeld often said when he died he wanted to disappear. Well, that cannot happen…’ Certainly not. Alongside those who worked closely with him, the industry’s power brokers also recalled their fondest memories of Karl.

This included Alain Wertheimer, the secretive, rarely-seen-in-public owner of Chanel: ‘I first met him in London and I was won over by the fact we could talk together. It was far from a working relationship, it was a friendship.’ And Bernard Arnault, France’s richest man and chairman of the LVMH group who opened with, ‘Karl was like Picasso’.

Anna Wintour and Helen Mirren at Karl For Ever
Anna Wintour and Helen Mirren at Karl For Ever ©Shutterstock

Meanwhile, Cara Delevingne appeared in pink marabou and declared: ‘I am a cat’. She was playing the role of Choupette, Karl’s beloved puss. Even Choupette’s governess appeared, cuddling the Birman fluffball: ‘She likes to tear up paper, eh cherie?’ In fact, the story was revealed as to how Karl came to possess the now famous feline (with 292k Insta followers) when Baptiste Giabiconi, model and menswear muse, appeared on-screen. He had asked Karl to look after Choupette and when he returned from holiday went to collect her, only to be told: ‘Non. Choupette reste ici!’

Designers including Valentino Garavani, Nicolas Ghesquiere and Clare Waight Keller also spoke affectionately of the great man who inspired them, but none more movingly than his successor at Chanel, Virginie Viard: ‘Karl is probably the person I’ve spent the most time with in my life. To me, he was accessible. My opinion counted. Above all, he loved my energy and my ideas, and he showed it. Together, we created the most beautiful collections that we could and today, I’m trying to continue so that everything is perfect for him,’ she said.

But it was Silvia Venturini Fendi, who first met Karl in 1965, when she was five years old, who summed up his insurmountable absence when she recounted the story of the day he signed his Fendi contract – turning up three hours late to do so. ‘It is difficult to think that he’s not here. Because he was always late, I always think that he will arrive. Maybe this time he’s a little bit more late than before, but he will show up,’ she said

READ MORE: Karl Lagerfeld's Most Iconic Chanel Moments

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Karl Lagerfeld's Most Iconic Chanel Moments.

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Chanel, SS94 runway. Naomi Campbell walking the Chanel runway in 1994 in tweed and a chain belt showed Karl Lagerfeld flexing his sartorial muscles as he pushed the house codes to their extreme edge.

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Chanel, SS94 runway. In 1993, Karl Lagerfeld was already keenly aware of mixing creating commercially viable pieces, like swimsuits. The high-low appeal was amplified by the use of muses like supermodel Naomi Campbell.

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Chanel, SS94 runway.Karl Lagerfeld was quick to spot the power of the supers and was a firm supporter of Claudia Schiffer's career from the get-go.

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Chanel, Haute Couture 1995 runway.And the bride (Claudia Schiffer) wore white. As soon as Karl Lagerfeld took the reigns of Chanel he began modernising the sartorial language Coco Chanel created for her eponymous label, including the use of tweed and cardigan jackets.

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Chanel, SS96 runway.Kate Moss at the height of her 'waif' appeal in the mid-90s wearing a blue tweed suit typifies how Karl Largerfeld was able to constantly transform and update this iconic house fabric.

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Chanel, SS96 runway.Eva Herzigova's Chanel swimsuit was just as iconic in the 90s as when Kim Kardashian wore it in 2018.

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Prince William with Princess Diana in a Chanel suit, 1997.Princess Diana wore Chanel time and again until reportedly she felt no longer comfortable sporting the double 'C' logo as it resembled the initials of Charles and Camila too closely.

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Chanel, SS13 runway.Who can forget the hula hoop bag from 2012? This enormous bag, which was later purchased by Kris Jenner, is a prime example of Kaiser Karl's ability to create a 'fashion moment' in other words grab the front page of newspapers with a fun reimagining of a classic Chanel item.

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Khloe Kardashian carrying Chanel's world traveller backpack.As Khloe Kardashian entered LAX airport in 2014 she swung Chanel's scribbled-over backpack onto her arm. This item was a token from the brand's collection that captured 'Gap Yah' culture.

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Rihanna at the AW14 runway. Rihanna at the AW14 Chanel fashion show wearing trainers and a belt bag is just a small insight into how far ahead of the trends Karl Lagerfeld was.

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Chanel, AW14 runway.For Karl Lagerfeld the world was his muse. He was able to turn the mundane, like supermarket shopping and consumption culture, into esoteric, humourful accessories that became instantly collectable. For instance, in March 2014, he transformed the Grand Palais into a Stepford Wives supermarket where models, like Cara Delevigne, shopped for 'Chanel' branded groceries and wore bags wrapped in cellophane.

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Kiera Knightly at the Golden Globes 2015.The British actress Kiera Knightly has enjoyed a long and fruitful partnership with Chanel, which included Karl Lagerfeld designing her wedding dress - a short white mini with a cross-body Chanel bag.

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Chanel, SS15 runway.As the conversation around feminism heated up around the world, Karl Largefeld turned the Chanel SS15 runway into a pro-women and equality protest.

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Chanel, SS16 runway. Karl Lagerfeld explored ideas around sustainability within fashion in Chanel's SS16 runway.

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Chanel, SS17 runway.With his finger on the pulse, Karl Largerfeld took inspiration from AI, high-tech robots by showcasing the Chanel show in a makebelieve data centre within the Grand Palais.

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Chanel, Haute Couture 2017.Alongside anointing trends, Karl Lagerfeld was a maker or models, including Lily-Rose Depp.

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Chanel, AW18 runway. Chanel's sets are notoriously lavish, including the AW18 catwalk that saw a branded spaceship lift off.

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Chanel, Cruise 2018 runway. As creative director of Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld oversaw the enermous output of spring-summer, autumn-winter, cruse, resort and two couture collections a year. Each show's set was almost as important at setting the mood of the collection as the clothes and handpicked models.

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Chanel, Haute Couture 2018 runway. The Chanel bride has a very hallowed place in history, something that Sundanese model Adut Akech Bior came to realise in July 2018 when she was the second WoC model to hold this position.

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Chanel, SS19 runway. For Chanel's last runway collection with Karl Largerfeld present the brand transformed the Grand Palais into a beach, on which Kaia Gerber walked barefoot.

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karl lagerfeld chanel

Chanel, SS94 runway. Naomi Campbell walking the Chanel runway in 1994 in tweed and a chain belt showed Karl Lagerfeld flexing his sartorial muscles as he pushed the house codes to their extreme edge.

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