© Courtesy Photo Interparfums - Selfportrait by Karl Lagerfeld
As the Bild title shouts loud and proud today, "King Karl ist Tot;" German-born fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, an adoptive son of France and of the couture scene in particular, died aged 85 at the American Hospital in Neuilly, we learn.
Two weeks ago, a precursor sign of a possible serious illness had been given when "Kaiser Karl" as the French have dubbed him, failed to make his usual clockwork-like regular appearance on the catwalks of Chanel for the last collection he signed, it turns out to be...
He had never missed a show in his life, so far; known as an awe-inspiring, extremely productive designer, whose work ethics few could match, this wafted perhaps more than of a sign of an innocuous illness.
And today, we can retrospectively read the non-event as an early announcement of his death to come; He might have attended if dispositions could have been taken to be there, on his bed of illness - even going further, on his death bed. If unlike Molière, the last image of him won't be his iconic black and silvery silhouette, his powdered hair on an elevated stage - a fashion podium in his case - as a spectacle to behold, it feels like it is not possible to imagine him otherwise than in his fashion uniform - and working till the very last moment.
As I am typing these words, I'm also wearing one of his last perfumes to have been launched: Fleur de Mûrier, which, a priori, illustrates his most recent preferred stylings in perfumery, i.e., perfumes that do not call too much attention to themselves - with a tendency to favor a functional bent.
Like his usual getups, the most recent fragrances issued under his brand name Karl Lagerfeld, are effective - and beyond the prettiness which was imparted them, offer a business-like aura. No flamboyance; no excess; a certain coolness, which was becoming to his public persona.
Lagerfeld shared not a few details about his complex relationship with his mother Elisabeth; we can sense in the strict sartorial style he loved - with just a few Baroque Chanel + 18th century touches - an echo of his early education by a Prussian mother, whose personality seems to fit what you can imagine the Prussian ethos to be.
"A woman does not put on my fragrance. She enters it." Ad for Chloé by Lagerfeld.
And so, especially in the last period of his life, his perfumes came to resemble that ethos more so than in the past. But then, if you went back to the 1970s-1980s, you could smell the difference when inhaling Chloé by Lagerfeld (1975), a strong, overbearing to some, cloud-like tuberose soliflore scent. It was big; it was loud; and you still remember it today, albeit it is not produced anymore.
Another fragrance which made an olfactive impact and was instantly recognizable was Karl Lagerfeld Classic (1978), a sweet, resinous, nearly syrupy concoction for men that women could wear as well. Its warmth - just like that of Chloé's - was what characterized these two best forays in the world of perfumes. You could term these bygone days his "warm period." It is an era which actually coincides with the period of his 18-year love story with Jacques de Bascher, who died of AIDS in 1984.
I expected Fleur de Mûrier to betray some resemblance to Mûre et Musc by l'Artisan Parfumeur, a classic in its own right. I am therefore surprised to realize that beyond the blackberry accord, which does not evoke the niche-perfumery classic, it is actually a return to the 1980s scene you can detect.
Inside the heart of Fleur de Mûrier, there is a sillage typical of the era - and to which Karl Lagerfeld contributed with his big, warm, memorable compositions. It smells of Venezia by Laura Biagiotti - not long ago re-edited - but perhaps even more tellingly of something of his own Karl Lagerfeld Classic. There is this warm undercurrent of spices and resins: it is a return to the past.
Sometimes this is what happens when the end is near. You get this irresistible urge to turn to the past, to the best years of your life, to a time when you were happy and someone made you laugh.
Karl Lagerfeld's ashes are said to be destined to be mixed with those of his mother Elisabeth and Jacques de Bascher. It is telling that his perfumery bears the hallmarks of the two people he loved most in his life - Choupette excluded.
The fashion industry loses an icon, who managed to both style people and himself for decades, with a maximum impact. He could shape conversations as well. His first name "Karl" was as famous as his last name "Lagerfeld" - and he managed to do that all the while working for Chanel.