Photo: Christopher William Adach / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)
Born: September 10, 1933
Born Place: Hamburg, Germany
Died: February 19, 2019
Death Place: American Hospital of Paris, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
Buried: February 22, 2019, Nanterre, France
Karl Otto Lagerfeld (10 September 1933 – 19 February 2019) was a German creative director, fashion designer, artist, photographer, and caricaturist who lived in Paris.
He was known as the creative director of the French fashion house Chanel, a position held from 1983 until his death, and was also creative director of the Italian fur and leather goods fashion house Fendi, and of his own eponymous fashion label. He collaborated on a variety of fashion and art-related projects.
Lagerfeld was recognized for his signature white hair, black sunglasses, fingerless gloves, and high, starched, detachable collars.
Lagerfeld was born on 10 September 1933 in Hamburg, to Elisabeth (née Bahlmann) and businessman Otto Lagerfeld. His father owned a company that produced and imported evaporated milk; while his maternal grandfather, Karl Bahlmann, was a local politician for the Catholic Centre Party. His family belonged to the Old Catholic Church. When Lagerfeld’s mother met his father, she was a lingerie saleswoman from Berlin. His parents married in 1930.
Lagerfeld was known to misrepresent his birth year, claiming to be younger than his actual age, and to misrepresent his parents’ background. For example, he claimed that he was born in 1938 to “Elisabeth of Germany” and Otto Ludwig Lagerfeldt from Sweden. These claims have been conclusively proven to be false, as his father was from Hamburg and spent his entire life in Germany, with no Swedish connection. There is also no evidence that his mother Elisabeth Bahlmann, the daughter of a middle-class local politician, called herself “Elisabeth of Germany”. He was known to insist that no one knows his real birth date. In an interview on French television in February 2009, Lagerfeld said that he was “born neither in 1933 nor 1938”.
In April 2013, he finally declared that he was born in 1935. A birth announcement was, however, published by his parents in 1933, and the baptismal register in Hamburg also lists him as born in that year, showing that he was born on 10 September 1933. Bild am Sonntag published his baptismal records in 2008 and interviewed his teacher and a classmate, who both confirmed that he was born in 1933. The same was later confirmed by his death record. Despite that, Karl Lagerfeld announced publicly that he was celebrating his “70th birthday” on 10 September 2008, despite actually turning 75.
His older sister, Martha Christiane “Christel”, was born in 1931. Lagerfeld had an older half-sister, Theodora Dorothea “Thea”, from his father’s first marriage. His family name has been spelled both Lagerfeldt (with a “t”) and Lagerfeld. Like his father, he used the spelling Lagerfeld, considering it to “sound more commercial”.
His family was mainly shielded from the deprivations of World War II due to his father’s business interests in Germany through the firm Glücksklee-Milch GmbH. His father had been in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake.
As a child, he showed great interest in visual arts, and former schoolmates recalled that he was always making sketches “no matter what we were doing in class”. Lagerfeld told interviewers that he learned much more by constantly visiting the Kunsthalle Hamburg museum than he ever did in school. His greatest inspiration came from French artists, and he claimed to have only continued school in order to learn the French language so that he could move there. Lagerfeld finished his secondary school at the Lycée Montaigne in Paris, where he majored in drawing and history.