He was iconic, infamously politically incorrect and never quite took himself seriously – but that’s why people the world over will always love The Kaiser.
Here are 20 of of the most hilarious bon mots from the inimitable designer, né Karl Otto Lagerfeldt.
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1. “I have no wish to be normal.”
With his powdered ponytail (and a recent graying beard), dark shades, asexual personality, a reputation for not liking to eat, and a pet Birman cat (Choupette) which he says reminds him of Jean Harlow, Karl is arguably the fashion world’s most enigmatic oddball, who also happens to helm one of the world’s most successful apparel brands.
2. “I am a black diamond, unfaceted. Black diamonds are rare, hard to cut, and therefore uncommercial.”
He might claim to be uncommercial but there’s no denying that Chanel is now one of the world’s most commercially successful global luxury brands in the business. Last year in 2018, for the first time in its 108-year history last year, Chanel revealed its balance sheets: Total sales of $9.62 billion, an 11 per cent spike from previous year revenues, outpacing the likes of Gucci which reported sales of $7.1 billion in the same financial year.
3. “Jogging pants are a sign of defeat. You’ve lost control of your life, so you go out in jogging pants.”
Karl, you know we love you, but even great minds do falter on the way fashion zigs and zags. Joggers became the breakout runway trend in 2014, and even the likes of Rihanna, Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie love their wearability – surely a Grammy winner, Oscar winner and a Golden Globe Best Actress nominee couldn’t have lost that much control over their lives?
4. “Youth is a club from which every member will be excluded one day.”
This man is adamant about keeping his membership at the youth club. Besides his strict low-fat, low-calorie, low-carb diet and his immaculate dressing, one of his secrets for keeping young is his indulgence in Icelandic skincare products. According to the December 2016 issue of French Vogue, he uses the Bioeffect line of serums and creams from ORF Genetics as one of his defences to ageing.
5. “I’m always busy. You know, the more I do, the more ideas I have – that’s the funny thing. The brain is a muscle, and I’m kind of a body-builder.”
Straddling five collections at Fendi, two for his eponymous label Karl Lagerfeld and eight for Chanel (which launched another two diffusion lines Coco Snow and Coco beach last year), he had been designing up to 15 collections a year.
6. “If there’s one thing that I’m miles away from, it’s political correctness.”
Consistently self-aware, he once called Adele “a little too fat, but she has a beautiful face and a divine voice”. And that he didn’t like Pippa, Kate Middleton’s sister – he said “she should only show her back”.
7. “If I was a Russian woman, I’d be a lesbian. Russian men are really not very good-looking.”
Kindly refer to Quote No. 6. His saving grace is that he is painfully self-aware.
8. “My mother said: “I’m going to have to take you to the upholsterer. Your nostrils are too big – they need curtains.”
Karl’s mother always had an acidic candour towards her son. On one occasion, Mrs Elisabeth Lagerfeldt chided her son for having “a big backside”. On another, she said he shouldn’t smoke, as his “hands aren’t so pretty, and when you smoke it attracts attention to them”.
9. “My childhood dream was not to be a child. I find it humiliating to be a child. Second-class human being.”
Perhaps his disdain for kid-hood had something to do with having a mother who constantly berated him from young. Please see Quote No. 8.
10. “Buying books is a real disease for me, but I don’t want to be cured.”
Karl’s passion for reading and books are quite legendary in the industry. He once said the scent of a book is “the best smell in the world” and that reading for him is the “biggest luxury” in his life, “the thing that makes me happiest”.
11. “Every era gets the bad taste it deserves.”
This was an upgrade from when he said, “Every era gets the fashion it deserves.”
12. “I hate ostrich skin. It makes me think of a mummy that had regular acne.”
Likely the reason why you won’t ever see this bird leather in any of his designs for Chanel, or Fendi.
13. “I hate small men. They’re the most wicked, bitter and vindictive kind there is.”
We have no idea where that came from – definitely no offence to all physically challenged males out there.
14. “I’ve become like a Lacoste alligator. Soon I’ll have to be sewn onto clothes.”
His self-awareness, on his own ubiquitous iconic celebrity status, is unmatched.
15. “Trendy is the last stage before tacky.”
Being ahead of the trend curve has always been Karl’s forte – he has presented his collections in glaciers (Fall 2011), underwater (Spring 2012), supermarkets (Fall 2014), casinos (Couture Fall 2015), with a spaceship (Fall 2017) and in the guise of a feminist protest rally (Spring 2015) – way before #MeTooism even became a thing.
16. “When people think it’s all forgotten I pull the chair away – maybe 10 years later.”
He should have also written a book on revenge. His rationale? “I see no reason why I shouldn’t do something back if somebody has done something bad to me.”
17. “I am a kind of fashion nymphomaniac who never gets an orgasm. I am never satisfied.”
This is the kind of operational SOP that every HR department should make their fashion interns recite as a daily morning anthem before starting work, ‘cos you know, #productivitygoals.
18. “The purpose of dress design is to make people feel good, not to express the pain and suffering of the world in taffeta.”
In another breath, he expounded: “Making dresses is important, but they’re only dresses. You’re not Kierkegaard after all.”
19. “A diet is the only game where you win while you’re losing.”
In 2001, he shocked the world by losing 92 pounds in 13 months just so he can fit into a supra-thin Dior Homme blazer designed by Hedi Slimane. He even published a book The Karl Lagerfeld Diet in 2004, which dispenses advice and tips for a low-carb, low-fat, low-calorie diet . It sold 200,000 copies in Europe and Asia.
20. “I’m a funny sort of Coco.”
On why he identifies so much with the House of Chanel, and how similar he is to its founder Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel. He once observed, “Chanel’s style is an ego trip. She did everything for herself. To assert herself. I understand that very well.”
By Dhylan Boey, February 2019
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