Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis Remembers Meeting Karl Lagerfeld
"He could converse with the young as easily as he could with a king or a rockstar."
Courtesy of Getty Images
“I ignore all kinds of taboos. You cannot be in fashion and have taboos,” Karl Lagerfeld told me a few years ago, two days before the Chanel couture presentation in Paris. Yesterday, we lost him: one of the greatest men of his time; fashion’s emperor; polymath; a visionary who never feared to speak his truth. His extraordinary career at the helm of Chanel saw us on the edge of our seats admiring and open mouthed, season after season, at the world he had dreamt up. From spaceships to beaches, from a Chanel supermarket to an enchanted forest, Karl’s vision was fantastical and always a few steps ahead of his peers.
I remember vividly the first time I met him at our friend Charlotte Casiraghi’s big 18th birthday bash. I was looking for my young brother—very late at night. I remember wandering through the party, everyone dazed and jolly, until I finally found him…at a table in the corner, in a deep philosophical conversation with Karl Lagerfeld! The thing about Karl was that he could converse with the young as easily as he could with a king or a rockstar.
A couple of seasons ago I invented a good enough reason and was allowed to fly to Paris and interview him for Vogue’s Met Gala special issue. The truth is I just wanted to hang out. Little did I know I would be invited to spend all afternoon at Chanel’s headquarters, 31 Rue de Cambon—possibly the most quintessential Parisian address—sitting next to him in his office. We sat at his desk stacked high with books, papers, magazines and knick-knacks. The room was buzzing with his inner circle: Amanda Harlech, his longtime muse and right-hand lady, and Virginie Viard, Chanel’s Studio Director (who was yesterday named its creative director). Models floated in and out; Gwyneth Paltrow and Suzy Menkes passed through. The show fittings were in full swing.
Karl was multi-tasking, speaking three languages, utterly unfazed. I will never forget it. With his wicked sense of humor and his apparently insatiable thirst for knowledge, he was possibly the best conversationalist I have known. It was difficult to keep up with his knife-sharp mind. He jumped from his beloved cat Choupette to politics, from Picasso to furniture and pop music. His was the mind of an adolescent more than that of a man in the later stages of life. He knew about everything and was interested in anything. He seemed ageless! And his vision and his work, in a world where designers seem to be looking backwards for inspiration, was confidently located in the here and now. Despite dozens of people zipping through the atelier and the pressure of the upcoming show, he kept insisting that my presence, my questions, my chatter, were not a nuisance at all. In fact, he welcomed it. Placing his hand on my own, he kept insisting that I stay.
The world is a drearier place without you, Karl, but up in heaven they will be having a ball. And all the gowns will be embroidered with crystals, feathers, and bows!