A final farewell to Lagerfeld in Paris with 'Karl For Ever'
They bade farewell in Paris on Thursday night with a one-of-a kind memorial in what became, in the designer’s latter days, his second home – the Grand Palais.
Featuring readings and performances by Helen Mirren, Tilda Swinton, Cara Delevingne, Pharrell Williams, Fanny Ardant and Lang Lang, interspersed with videos of Karl: a clever assemblage of his bon mots, multi-lingual puns and dry-ice quips.
All projected on three immense screens, with Swinton an early performer with a reading from one of Lagerfeld’s favorite books, 'Orlando'.
“Clothes wear us, and not we them… They change our view of the world, and the world’s view of us,” declaimed Swinton, in an apt distillation of Lagerfeld’s fashion philosophy.
It was also a chance for multiple designers to pay respect in person: Silvia Venturini Fendi, Stella McCartney, Alber Elbaz, Haider Ackermann, Valentino, along with Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, who both flew in specially for the occasion.
Fendi, like so many people, remembered his lack of punctuality, the result everyone stressed of his attention to everyone’s feelings.
“When we came up to Paris to sign his first contract with Fendi, Karl was a young designer and he was still three hours late. I was so much used to him being late, I sort of expect him to come back,” she confessed sadly, in one of a dozen video comments by designers.
The opening video remarks were by Anna Wintour, who praised Karl for succeeding “not just as a designer, but also as a linguist, photographer, interior decorator, film maker and philanthropist. He was the original multi-tasker, a man who did everything at once… It is his human presence that we all mourn and celebrate.”
While fellow Briton Cara Delevingne read a poem on cats in English by Parisian author Colette; her original words projected in French alongside images of Karl’s great final companion, his cat Choupette. The white Birman even making an appearance with her handler at one stage, looking forlorn.
Perhaps the greatest applause was for Helen Mirren, reading quotes from his book, 'The World According to Karl'; brilliantly accompanied by violinist Charlie Siem.
One video showed Lagerfeld discussing his design for a grand piano, insisting that it must be matte black and have a red Chinese lacquer chair. And Robert Carson, the opera director, who conceived the event, found two for the evening. Lang Lang’s moving interpretation of Chopin’s 'Waltz No. 1 in E flat major' was the moment the first tears appeared in many people’s eyes.
Actresses and beauties Princess Caroline, Charlotte Casiraghi, Carole Bouquet, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and Claudia Schiffer sat front row. It was also crammed with French corporate power: Bernard and Helene Arnault; First Lady Brigitte Macron; Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, the owners of Chanel; the house’s president Bruno Pavlovsky; and François-Henri Pinault, who sat in the second row, in what was seen as a gentlemanly gesture.
This was very much a joint project of the three fashion houses where he was creative director – Lagerfeld, Fendi and Chanel – so there was an air of balancing corporate politics. That said, it was a intensely felt occasion, positively recalling Lagerfeld’s remarkable gifts in so many arts: from fashion to architecture to the art of conversation.
It all ended with Pharrell Williams calling the audience to their feet for his performance, before an extended montage of Karl taking scores of bows after epic shows from all three houses – everything from the Great Wall of China to the Trevi Fountain, the entire audience on its feet applauding. In what suddenly felt like the final, final farewell, to the most famous designer of our times; the witty, polyglot, mesmerizing German gentleman who had conquered Paris and made it his home.
Ultimately, many people had probably entered the Grand Palais questioning whether there should have been a memorial at all, given Lagerfeld’s oft stated insistence that after he passed he wanted to disappear forever.
However, like Tom Sawyer, one suspected he would have been greatly touched by this vast outpouring of respect, esteem and love.
Plenus annis abiit, plenus honoribus, as Pliny once wrote. He is gone from us, full of years and full of honors.
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