Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel's creative director, dead at 85

German designer Karl Lagerfeld, artistic director at Chanel and an icon of the haute-couture industry for over half a century, has died at age 85, the French fashion house confirmed Tuesday.

German-born couturier was the French fashion house's artistic director for decades

German designer Karl Lagerfeld, shown at an event on the Champs-Élysées in Paris on Nov. 22, has died in Paris at 85. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

German designer Karl Lagerfeld, artistic director at Chanel and an icon of the haute-couture industry for over half a century, has died at age 85. 

The fashion house confirmed Tuesday that Lagerfeld, who had looked increasingly frail in recent seasons, had died. Last month, he did not come out to take a bow at the Chanel's couture show in Paris — a rare absence that the company attributed to him being tired.

Lagerfeld had been associated with Chanel since 1983.

French celebrity online magazine Purepeople said the Hamburg-born creative talent died Tuesday morning after he was rushed to a hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine just outside Paris the night before.

Chanel, in a statement, called Lagerfeld "an extraordinary individual" who "reinvented the brand's codes," and said Virginie Viard, his longtime head of studio, will be tasked with creating upcoming collections. Chanel did not say whether her appointment was permanent.

"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," Bernard Arnault, head of luxury French designer LVMH, said in a statement Tuesday.

"Fashion and culture has lost a great inspiration."

Instantly recognizable in his dark suits, pony-tailed white hair and tinted sun glasses, Lagerfeld was best known for his association with Chanel but simultaneously delivered collections for LVMH's Fendi and his own eponymous label.

"I am like a caricature of myself, and I like that," runs one 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."

Revered — and feared

Lagerfeld's 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.

Although Lagerfeld spent virtually his entire career at luxury labels catering to the very wealthy, his designs quickly trickled down to low-end retailers, giving him an almost unprecedented impact on the entire fashion industry.

Tributes to Lagerfeld poured in on Tuesday from fellow designers, fashion editors, artists and even U.S. President Donald Trump's wife, Melania Trump.

Edward Enninful, editor in chief of British Vogue, said Lagerfeld "exerted an incredible influence over the fashion industry over the past six decades, and it goes without saying that the world has lost one of the greatest designers in the history of fashion."

Former super model Claudia Schiffer, whose career Lagerfeld helped launch, said: "What [Andy] Warhol was to art, he was to fashion. He is irreplaceable."

Lagerfeld appears on the catwalk after presenting a new Chanel fashion collection in Paris in 2004. (Philippe Wojazer/Reuters)

Lagerfeld mingled with the young and trendy even in recent months, pairing up with 17-year-old catwalk darling Kaia Gerber, daughter of former super model Cindy Crawford, for a collaboration released by his Karl Lagerfeld brand in 2018.

But he 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.

'Kaiser Karl'

Dubbed "Kaiser Karl" and "Fashion Meister" among a whole host of media monikers, Lagerfeld was born in Hamburg to a German mother and a Swedish father who imported condensed milk. He spent his early childhood tucked away from war in a 486-hectare family estate in Bavaria and had a French tutor.

Lagerfeld's big breakthrough came shortly after a move to Paris, where, 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.

Lagerfeld, who developed a reputation for his elaborate runway spectacles, appears with models staging a demonstration at the end of Chanel's Spring/Summer 2015 showcase during Paris Fashion Week in September 2014. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

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

Lagerfeld first found real success in the mid-1960s with Chloé, the fashion label now owned by Switzerland's Richemont. But it was Chanel that propelled him to rock-star status, as he revived the storied brand's profile and fortunes with grandiose runway shows. In the past year, these have featured a full-scale beach and an enormous replica ship.

Known for his sharp tongue

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 also stirred controversies.

People hold white roses as they stand outside the Chanel fashion boutique in Paris after news broke Tuesday of Lagerfeld's death. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

"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-apologized to Oscar winner 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 also wasn't 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.

Known to adore Diet Coke, Lagerfeld shed about 90 pounds in the early 2000s to fit into the razor-thin suits brought in by Christian Dior's then menswear designer, Hedi Slimane. A weight-loss book, The Karl Lagerfeld Diet, was published in 2005.

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.

With files from The Associated Press