The Ebullient One

Obituary | Alber Elbaz, considered one of the most likeable designers in the business, will always be remembered for turning around the fusty house of Lanvin

Alber Elbaz succumbed to complications due to COVID-19, as reported by The New York Times, quoting a statement issued by Richemont, the Swiss luxury group that backed Mr Elbaz’s latest venture AZ Factory. He was 59. The fashion designer died in the American Hospital in Paris, the same institution where Kenzo Takada too died from COVID-19 in October last year. According to Israeli media, Mr Elbaz was “infected with the South African COVID variant despite being fully vaccinated”. Poised for a major comeback in January, the Moroccan-born Israeli designer was once a major force of fashion when he held the design directorship at Lanvin, ushering an era of unabashed elegance tinged with fun and sometimes (subtle) irreverence for the more-than-a-decade-old French house. Women adored his clothes. Meryl Streep, who wore a gold Lanvin dress in 2012 to receive the Oscar for her role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, later told Vogue, “Alber’s dresses for Lanvin are the only ones that, when I wear them, I feel like myself, or even a better version of her.”

Born in Casablanca in 1961 to Jewish parents—a hairdresser father and painter mother, Albert Elbaz (he later dropped the T from his first name, apparently to ensure the right pronunciation in French) immigrated to Israel with his family when he was 10. As he recounted, he started drawing dresses when he was seven. Dana Thomas told British Vogue that he said to her, “I would sketch women—queens, nurses, women in pictures… It’s funny—a lot of what I’m doing now, I did then.” But he did not pursue that path—at least not as soon as he was old enough. After national service with the Israel Defence Forces (“I had asthma, so they put me in charge of the entertainment of the soldiers,” he once told Sarah Mower), Mr Elbaz enrolled at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan (a city in the district of Tel Aviv) to study design. He was close to his mother (his father died when he was 13) and with her blessing and financial support of US$800, left for New York in 1985, a month after his graduation, to pursue a career in fashion.

The finale of the AZ Factory spring/summer 2021 video-show. Screen grab: AZ Factory/Youtube

When in New York, Mr Elbaz began in an unnamed dressmaker’s shop in the Garment District. Some accounts thought that to be a bridal fashion house. He held that job—designing eveningwear—for two and half years. According to fashion lore, he met Dawn Mello who introduced him to Geoffrey Beene in 1989. But Mr Elbaz told Ms Thomas that it was his boyfriend who introduced him to the American couturier. He was offered a job as assistant after a ten-minute interview with Mr Beene, and he remained for seven-and-half years. Mr Elbaz always credited everything he had learned to Mr Beene, as well as everything about designing. In 2012, he said, “I was very much into design because I came from the house of Geoffrey Beene, which was all about design, and then we pushed it also to desire, to women, to reality, to be relevant.” In addition, what he admired there, remained with him forever: “the inside and the outside (of the clothes) were as beautiful—that the back and the front were as important.”

In 1996 (some reports state 1997), Mr Elbaz moved to Paris, where his first appointment was at the house of Guy Laroche, then looking unmistakably staid, unlike its heydays in the ’60s. The Observer declared in a 1998 headline that Mr Elbaz would be the “man who’ll put Guy Laroche back in your closet.” Suzy Menkes, then writing for The International Herald Tribune, enthused earlier that “(Mr. Elbaz) blew out the dust of the (Guy Laroche) couture house with a show that was spring clean.” But, as the designer himself said, “I didn’t forget that Guy Laroche’s customers can be, like, 75 years old and they like pink, bouclé and gold buttons.” But he would be at Guy Laroche for a mere two years. With Yves Saint Laurent, who also grew up in North Africa, retiring from prêt-à-porter, he was installed by Pierre Berger as YSL’s creative director in 1998. Many observers considered the appointment “a perfect fit”. This time, the tenure was similarly short. Just after three seasons, he was ousted when Gucci, then headed by Domenico de Sole, took over the brand and Tom Ford installed himself as the designer.

Alber Elbaz with is adorable sketches in his AZ Factory office. Photo: AZ Factory/Richemont

But it was at Lanvin where the world really saw and enjoyed his groove. Mr Elbaz joined what is considered the oldest operational French couture house in 2001. He brought to Lanvin a romance that was slipping the grip of fashion at that time. But Mr Elbaz preferred not to call it romance, saying to WWD in 2014, “I work mostly by intuition. Every time I think too much and try to rationalize every issue, it doesn’t work. I think that intuition is the essence of this métier.” The clothes—often draped—were designed for real occasions, during a time when the right clothes for those occasions still mattered. Memorable are the hyper-feminine details, such as ruffles and flounces, and the edgier, such as visible zips, and exposed and unfinished hems and seams, as well as costume jewellery set on or fastened with grosgrain ribbons. For menswear, which he oversaw the work of Lucas Ossendrijver, formerly Hedi Slimane’s assistant at Dior Homme, Mr Elbaz was one of the earliest adopters of athleisure and creators of luxury sneakers. So noted he was and so red-hot Lanvin was that in 2010, the French brand collaborated with H&M for a collection that sold out. Those who queued for a go at scoring a piece would remember.

When Mr Elbaz departed from Lanvin in November 2015, he left the fashion world quite in shock. His sudden parting was also mired in rumours of the breakdown of relationship with Lanvin owner, the Taiwanese media doyenne Wang Shaw Lan (王效蘭). He quit, it was initially reported and believed. But according to a New York Times editorial later, Mr Elbaz sat “at his home in Paris reading a letter from Lanvin telling him not to come into the office, because he had been fired.” Ms Wang had quite a reputation then as a formidable business woman. In August 2001, through her holding company Harmonie SA, she led a group of investors to acquire Lanvin from L’Oréal Group. Old-school and used to getting her way, she was described as “autocratic” and as China’s Jing Daily once wrote, “Even though the company has a clear executive structure, it was not surprising that she was willing to circumvent it.”

Lanvin spring/summer 2016, Alber Elbaz’s last collection for the house. Screen grab: FF Channel/YouTube

Sudden firings in the ateliers of luxury fashion was not new that year. Eleven months earlier, Gucci’s Frida Giannini was asked to leave and was replaced by Alessandro Michele. But Mr Elbaz’s termination was thought by industry folks and Lanvin customers to be especially unjust and undue. That Mr Elbaz was well liked by the many who knew him made the very public corporate divorce uglier on the side of the hirer, rather than the hired. After the acrimonious exit of Mr Elbaz, Lanvin reported its first annual loss in a decade. No one was surprised. The brand would subsequently only see a series of creative directors who failed to bring back the glory days of the Lanvin. It was finally sold to Forsun Fashion, part of China’s Fosun Group, also owner of St John and Wolford; it was their first acquisition of a key luxury brand. Lanvin’s current creative director is Frenchman Bruno Sialelli, former head of menswear at Loewe and womenswear at Paco Rabanne.

Post-Lanvin, Mr Elbaz said he would like to take an extended hiatus and travel. But he did collaborate with others, including the French parfumeur Frederick Malle on a fragrance called—oddly (or, perhaps, cheekily)—Superstitious. There was also a project with Tods, as well as a one-off with the Japanese-owned American bag brand LeSportsac. While acknowledged as a true talent, it surprised many that Mr Elbaz was not snapped up by a major house. Or that he and his life partner of more than two decades, Alex Koo, who had worked with Mr Elbaz in Lanvin as merchandising director, did not start their own label. But in 2019, it was reported that he was conceptualising a new brand that would be called AZ Factory. Richemont, the conglomerate that has Cartier, Chloé, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Yoox Net-a-Porter Group in its stable of brands was to back it. In January, AZ Factory was launched during Paris Couture Week to warm response, with many expecting more from the new label. Unlike the luxury brands he was associated with before, AZ Factory would be modelled as see-now-buy-now, and would be available from size XXS to XXXXL, and in what was thought to be accessible price points, which seemed so distant from how exclusive and costly Lanvin was (and is). In 2009, he explained to The New Yorker why his designs for Lanvin were expensive. “It’s so much work,” he said. “Doing a collection for me is almost like creating a vaccine.” Was Alber Elbaz really being prescient?

Illustration: Just So

Man Of Many Trades

Obituary | Pierre Cardin may have been known as a fashion designer, but he would be remembered for doing much, much more

Photo: Pierre Cardin

Louis Vuitton’s first restaurant, Le Café V, at its Osaka flagship Maison Osaka Midosuji, Armani Hotel in the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, Rei Kawakubo’s (now discontinued and highly collectible) furniture for the home, Hermès custom-made mahjong table, Dolce e Gabbana kitchen appliances, Bottega Veneta Intrecciato suede cushions, Versace dog bed, Balenciaga beach towels, Chanel boomerang and tennis racket, Berluti dumbbells, Prada water bottle—these are nothing unusual today. But they might not have been so if not for one man: Pierre Cardin, who died in Paris, barely three days before this upsetting year will end, according to Agence France-Presse. No cause of death was given. He was 98.

That short list above of non-fashion products conceived by fashion designers—now considered essential to luxury branding—does not take into consideration attendant merchandise such as accessories, bags, footwear, and makeup. That brands such as Louis Vuitton operating more like department stores than mere fashion boutique can be directly or indirectly traced to Mr Cardin. The first to turn his name into a label beyond fashion, he has allowed his moniker to be used on so many products that no one is really counting, or wishes to. For years at the height of his career, he claimed that his trademark enjoyed 800 licenses in 140 countries. Throughout his career, in particular after his “Space Age” halcyon days, Mr Cardin was often derided for having his name on some (many?) undeniably tacky products. But he didn’t care. As he told The New York Times in 2002, still defiant at age 80, “If someone asked me to do toilet paper, I’d do it. Why not?”

Pierre Cardin at the Cannes Film Festival in 1961. Photo: Getty Images

Pierre Cardin was born Pietro Costante Cardin in the commune of San Biagio di Callalta, near Treviso, northern Italy, where Benetton and Diadora are headquartered. At age two, his parents moved the family to France, in the industrial town of Saint-Étienne, reportedly to get away from the intensifying fascism of Italy in the mid-Twenties. In his teens, his father, then a wine merchant, wanted him to study architecture, but Mr Cardin preferred to pursue fashion, which he had developed an intense love for since an early age. By 14, he was interning for (un-named) fashion brands and at 17, he moved to Vichy in central France to become a tailor at Manby, a men’s shop, where it was said that he made suits for women. After World War II, Pierre Cardin relocated to Paris, where, to his father’s pleasure, he studied architecture. Fashion, however, never left him. He soon worked for Jeanne Paquin, and then moved on to Elsa Schiaparelli, before securing a place at Christian Dior where he was put in charged of the tailleur side of the couture atelier. Western journalists often note that Mr Cardin was never employed by Balenciaga.

In 1950, three years after Christian Dior’s “the New Look”, Pierre Cardin established his own fashion house, with couture shown in 1953, followed by what would be his best known dress shape in 1954, the “bubble dress”—a short-skirted, cocktail number, cut on a bias, and shaped over a stiffened base. By the ’60s, in tandem with the decade’s space race, Mr Cardin’s clothes departed dramatically from his couture beginnings. It was the era that Diana Vreeland called “Youthquake”. Just as today’s young consumers might find Kim Jones’s work hip, many during the decade they called “swinging” considered Pierre Cardin’s space-age-y dresses with cut-outs or geometric appliques deliciously cool and, simultaneously, provocative. But Mr Cardin was not the only one exploring design concepts related to what the future might be like. There, too, were André Courrèges and Paco Robanne. But unlike the rest of the French fashion establishment, Mr Cardin actually pursued his “space” ambitions. He was, in 1969, the first civilian to try on the Apollo 11 space suit that Neil Armstrong wore on his walk on the moon. After that, he even designed a space suit for NASA. Whether that was put to use in outer space, we don’t know.

Pierre Cardin Great Wall of China show, 2018. Photos: Pierre Cardin

Pierre Cardin was also credited for his foray into pret-a-porter, when he designed a collection for the Paris department store Au Printemps in 1959. Today, we might see such a commercial move as disruption, or a precursor to Karl Lagerfeld designing for H&M, but back then it annoyed the hell out of the establishment. It was, to them, a positive downgrade; a cop-out. In fact, much of what we know today as “masstige” could be attributed to Pierre Cardin, including the use of the logo as part of the design, at first just PC, which appeared as early as 1960. In the ’70s and onwards, licensing increasingly became the name of the game for him. As the number grew larger, the products that were churned out, for the most part, crossed over to the crass. His own designs started to look like they never left the ’60s, or went beyond 1975. The “futurism” of the Cardin years, like many trends of the era, fizzled out, and it became truly hard to pin cool to the brand when somewhere in the less posh part of any city, a Pierre Cardin keyring can be had for less than tips left at a restaurant for service staff. By the ’80s, Pierre Cardin the brand swung between staggeringly expensive couture gowns and cheap boxer shorts.

His persistence with pret-a-porter caused a riff with the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture: in 1959, after the Au Printemp stunt, they kicked him out. But as other designers saw the potential of ready-to-wear and were willing to embrace it, the Chambre Syndicale eventually invited him back, but in 1966, he resigned, and quit Paris Fashion Week altogether, to show at his own time and in his own space—the former Théâtre des Ambassadeurs, which he bought and converted to L’Espace Cardin. While he was a formidable businessman, buying up real estate as he became wealthier, Mr Cardin was not without a legacy of technical innovation. His clothes may have appeared rather naively futuristic, but more progressive was the development of a heat-molded, synthetic fabric, called Cardine, which was used to lend his mini-dresses their rigidity, on which geometric/abstract shapes were embossed or cut out. In 1981, F&B business was added to his portfolio: he bought the Parisian restaurant Maxim’s, followed by the licensing of food under the 142-year-old name.

Hiroko Matsumoto in Pierre Cardin, 1960s. Photo: Pierre Cardin

Somewhat rare among his peers was Pierre Cardin’s affinity to Asia. His first acquaintance with this part of the world was in Japan, where he was appointed professor emeritus at Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo in 1958, which would be around the time a young Kenzo Takada attended the school. It isn’t known if Mr Cardin taught Mr Takada, but it was established that both became close friends in Paris (Jean Paul Gaultier, who started at the house of Cardin, was the other intimate fashion designer pal). Mr Cardin’s time in Japan opened Asia to him, and allowed him to establish a presence in the country. He would be so enchanted with Japanese culture, aesthetics and, in particular, beauty that he struck up a long-lasting friendship with Japanese model Hiroko Matsumoto (1936—2003), and tempted her to go to Paris with him. Ms Matsumoto became not only his house mannequin (believed to be the first for a French fashion house), she was a muse too—and an Asian, which was considered extremely unusual at that time.

In 1979, he visited China, where he staged a fashion show at the Beijing National Culture Palace, marking, for the first time, the presence of an international fashion label in the capital city. The brand left such a lasting impression in China that the Global Times wrote in an obituary today that “Pierre Cardin was regarded as the peak of Western fashion.” Since that first show, the house has continued to exhibit in China, including a 2007 production on the desert of Whistling Sand Mountain in Gansu Province, 2018’s forty-years-in-China show on the Great Wall (Fendi, too, used the world longest wall for their show in 2020. The Italian label staged theirs at the more stunning Juyongguan Pass, while the French at the more commercial Badaling section), and early this year’s Qinhuangdao sea-side event in Hebei. Mr Cardin had his eyes on other Asian countries as well. In the Philippines, he gave the national costume (for men), the barong tagalog, a makeover in 1971, effectively modernising what was a rather fancy special-occasion shirt. In India, apart from the fashion, the biggest and most desirable item to own was the Pierre Cardin pen (with its own dedicated website!), first introduced in 1994. As “merchant to the masses”, it was clear that Pierre Cardin made sure that, even after his death, his name will live on… and on, and in ink too.

A Pioneer Passes

Obituary | Tan Beng Yan, the fashion retail doyenne behind Tyan Fashions was a private individual who had more of a doting mother’s instinct than a clothing retailer’s ambition 

 

Tan Beng Yan 2013Tan Beng Yan at a Vivienne Tam in-store show in 2013. Photo: Tyan

Among the women fashion retailers of multi-labels that emerged in the mid-Eighties (or earlier), Tan Beng Yan was probably the quietest and least-known. Yet, she was less mysterious than Club 21’s Christina Ong. Those who knew her referred to her vivacious and sociable nature, yet she was not as press-savvy/ready as Man and his Woman’s (now defunct) Judith Chung, a former journalist with The Straits Times. She was known to have kept the company of some of her well-heeled customers, yet she did not share the glamourous standing of The Link’s (also defunct) Tina Tan (not related), now the founder of Privato. The owner of Tyan was, by most account, a down–to–earth entrepreneur—“one of the nicest people in fashion,” a former magazine editor told SOTD. “Motherly, too.”

Mrs Tan, 70, passed away this past Tuesday, shortly after a family trip to Japan. The news shocked many customers, as well as industry friends and former colleagues, with many saying they had not known she was so seriously ill. It was reported that she succumbed to leukemia, but few knew of or talked about her declining health. She had, according to those who knew her, remained her upbeat/jovial self. Family members told friends at the wake that she had been responding well to treatment. A magazine editor who had been friends with Mrs Tan since the ’80s, and who knew she was unwell said, “She didn’t want others to be overtly concerned… and she was a fighter.”

It is possible, too, that Mrs Tan valued her privacy; she was known to shield her personal life from needless attention. She hardly talked about her children (except, in recent years, that her second daughter Gayle is “helping” her) or made references to her connection to the Tan Chong Group (her husband Tan Eng Soon is chairman of listed motor firm Tan Chong International and their son Glenn Tan is the company MD). When once asked if she could be interviewed for a magazine article, she told the editor, “I’m not that interesting”. And gleefully changed the subject, “let’s go eat”. Mrs Tan was as known for her “zest for life”—her editor-friend was quick to point out—as her love for food.

20-01-25-21-44-23-833_decoA spacious and plush Tyan store. Photo: Tyan

Tyan opened in 1986, fourteen years after Club 21 (which was set up in 1971 as a man’s tailor shop before transforming into a multi-label store a year later) and Man and his Woman, and four years after The Link (which was a 2.0 of Link, originally conceived in 1973 by Chan Kheng Lin—now Farah Khan, founder of the Melium Group and the emporium Aseana, as well as her eponymous label). The ’80s was considered the heydays of the multi-designer-label store. Singaporeans were able to shop for their favourite European labels among other European labels during a time of burgeoning ready-to-wear. And a few enterprising women were quick to react to the opportunities such a retail concept provided in what was initially our island’s rather barren retail landscape.

While most stores competed with each other to score the most happening labels of the time, Tyan was working with those that had what one buyer called “practical appeal”. A former fashion editor told us that the store offered “stylish but not overtly trendy” clothes. “It’s a multi-label store that offers a variety of styles at affordable price range,” he added. “Tyan stood the test of time, as retail goes bonkers—up and down”. This is achieved through a balanced mix of accessible names such as Betty Barclay and Paula Ke and edgier ones such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood, and clearly commercial brands such as Japanese bag label Samantha Thavasa.

Mrs Tan’s background in fashion goes back to her time at Hagemeyer Trading, the once Dutch-owned, Singapore-based company founded in Surabaya in 1904 that distributed brands such as Christian Dior (yes, it was known by its full name!). She was, in fact, CD’s (and, yes, it went by that abbreviation too) boutique manager from 1979 to 1986. Prior to Tyan, she started  her own fashion label Saturday’s Child (based on the “Carnaby Street look”, she once told a journalist), conceived with her Hagemeyer colleague, CD brand manager Alice Fu, who would later be Tang’s first head buyer for women’s wear between 1982 to 1996. Having run her own label, Mrs Tan understood the difficulties of creating and selling local, and was willing to support the fledgling, such as jewellery designer Marilyn Tan’s early collections in the ’90s.

Despite the vagaries of fashion and the retailing of it, one constant remained: Mrs Tan was committed to helping others. Although she hardly talked about her philanthropic work, she was known as a tireless fundraiser. From 2009 to 2015, she was a member of the board of directors of the Singapore Heart Foundation (SHF) and the chairperson of its fundraising committee. In a Facebook post, SHF wrote, “We remember Mrs Tan as a cheerful and driven woman, who was not only committed in raising funds for SHF, but also did it with great finesse.” It was the same finesse that Tan Beng Yan brought to fashion retail on our island, and secured Tyan’s admirable longevity.

Like So Many Before Him, Gone Too Soon

Obituary|Godfrey Gao’s sudden death, to his fans, means he’ll be “forever handsome”

 

Godfrey Gao in an Earl Jeans campaign in 2012. Photo: 小苏 for Earl Jeans

The news that Godfrey Gao (高以翔) died in a fall while filming the sports-themed reality TV show, Chase Me (追我吧), in Ningbo, China, had members of our local media keep their WhatApp chats abuzz. Mr Gao had worked with quite a few stylists and photographers here, and was known to be a much sought-after subject, even if only for those who profiled him, to be close to someone considered the best-looking Asian male specimen on the planet. The shock is understandable.

Many in the fashion industry here knew him as a model, whose career culminated in the 2011 appearance in the now “legendary” Louis Vuitton campaign, a first for LV involving not just an Asian male model, also one not from Japan or Korea, but from unlikely Taiwan. In it, Mr Gao’s striking looks rivaled any Caucasian male’s; his sharp jawline, unshaped by the likes of Pao Facial Fitness (yes, the one Christiano Ronaldo promoted) and so sharp it could have cut the suit he wore.

His fans (surprisingly only 550K on IG) remember him as an actor, whose career never quite matched not-shoddy-in-the-looks-department Mark Chao’s (趙又廷, of the Inspector Dee series), but it did lead up to a smallish Hollywood part in 2013’s The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, in which he took on Magnus Bane, a flamboyant, bisexual character of Asian descent that Mr Gao played in such a campy manner, observers thought it was risky as a breakthrough role.

Godfrey Gao for LVGodfrey Gao in an Louis Vuitton ad in 2011. Photo: Louis Vuitton

That, however, did not put the brakes on leads heading his way. His biggest role came in the relatively short, 38-episode, 2016 Chinese novel-turn-TV-series Encountering Lichuan (遇见王沥川, aka Remembering Li Chuan’s Past). It sealed his heartthrob reputation as the titular character, also called Alex, is considered so well casted and performed—more turning on the born-for-camera charm than acting—by Mr Gao that fans were convinced he “wasn’t eye candy anymore”.

That he was, at time of death, filming for a China reality TV show indicated that he was big enough a name to be sold to a mainland Chinese audience, who isn’t quite tuned into Taiwan’s male-star offering when they have their own, such as Shawn Dou (窦骁, also a fellow Canadian) and Kenny Lin (林更新) who starred with Mr Gao in God of War, Zhao Yun (战神赵子龙). All that came to a halt in that fall, attributed to (or as a result of, it was not immediately clear) a cardiac arrest, a cause of death not typical of Mr Gao’s 35 years of age or a basketball player, but may be aggravated by the reported “17 straight hours of filming”. As one of his best friends, the Taiwanese basketball player (and one-time actor) James Mao (毛加恩), who was always referred to by Mr Gao as his “brother” (both were last here in September for F1), IG-ed, “This is not how it’s supposed to be”.

What was supposed to be was Godfrey Gao’s face. His was what traditionalists would call classically handsome and what the many young women who are mad about him would consider 帅呆了 (shuai dai le, awesomely suave or, literally, handsome till you’re struck speechless). Mr Gao had an extremely easy to shoot face. Those who had worked with him, make-up artists too, told SOTD he “had no bad angle”. One Singaporean stylist who had collaborated with him on commercials told us that “he doesn’t have a bad photo”, deliberately using the present tense. “I feel it’s the proportion of the head in relation to the body. And of course, it’s also because he has many good angles.”

19-11-28-13-48-27-659_deco.jpg

Godfrey Gao certainly knew his angles and wasn’t afraid to use them, such as in this series of overtly sexy ads for Earl Jeans. Photo: 小苏 for Earl Jeans

Cameras loved him and he loved them back. For some behind the lens, their work with Godfrey Gao was unforgettable, formative years. James Hsu, the Tawainese art director of the ad campaigns for Earl Jeans (the LA-based brand loved by the Hollywood set, now owned by Nautica) that featured Mr Gao for several seasons told us, “I’ve worked with Godfrey constantly for over three to four years. And it’s the time where I started everything (directing & producing). Now saying good bye to him feels more like saying goodbye to my youth.”

Godfrey Gao was the personification of youth— in his case, tenacious youth. He was enigmatic, media-ready, and willing to bank on his face. But, as it’s often said of the photogenic, what the camera sees isn’t necessarily an intimate portrait. In person, we were told, he was not always the personable idol that those who swoon at his mere presence think. One former marketing head, who had worked with Mr Gao in a paid project in Shanghai in 2011, recalled what he wasn’t prepared for: incommunicado and resistance to cooperate.

“He was not friendly, leaving all dealings and speaking to his personal assistant, appearing not for rehearsal, just the event proper, which was to walk out onto the stage at the end of a fashion show, but he didn’t emerge when he was introduced. The upbeat host of the event later surmised that because he was a guo ji ju xing (big international star), he probably didn’t want to appear alongside the other regional celebrities, sharing the same intro. She had to re-introduce him and allow him his own spotlight on stage.

Godfrey-Gao-Esquire-Singapore-March-2015-Cover.jpegOn Esquire Singapore in March 2015. Photo: Chuck Reyes/ Esquire

“We had arranged a dinner for him following the event, which he was told about earlier. He vanished after the appearance on stage, leaving his assistant to inform us that he won’t be joining us for dinner. No reason was given. My Chinese colleagues accepted that as unsurprising of an “international star”. When I later mentioned this to a Taiwanese editor friend, he said in Mr Gao’s defence, ‘He doesn’t speak Mandarin very well.’” Nor write, probably. On his social media accounts, Mr Gao posted only in English. The Singaporean stylist concurred that his Mandarin was “competent at most”.

Godfrey Gao was born in Taipei in 1984 to a Shanghainese father, who was in the auto-tyre business, and a Peranakan mother from Georgetown, who was a 1970 Miss Penang beauty queen. The young Godfrey emigrated to Vancouver with two brothers when he was eleven—his family, like so many Hong-Kongers before 1997, was likely attracted to the pleasant climate and slower pace of life in the Canadian city that was ideally situated on the Pacific Rim. Mr Gao completed his tertiary education in University of Capalino in northern Vancouver, where he was, unsurprisingly, given his 1.93m height, a member of the school’s basketball team. It is not known how well he played (or how Jeremy Lin-gifted), but it was reported that he did consider a career in the sport, but did not pursue it. He continued to play basketball throughout his professional life, counting some members of Taiwan’s national players as friends.

No major reason was offered to the deeply curios about his return to Taiwan in 2004. Some said, as an Asian model, opportunities for him in Vancouver would be few and far between. In Taipei, he did make a mark through modelling, and was part of Fashion F4, a media-bestowed collective, unashamedly named after the attractive clique in the manga series Boys Over Flowers (BOF). The Taiwanese real-life Fashion F4—not to be mistaken for the pop group F4 comprising Jerry Yan (言承旭), Vanness Wu (吴建豪), Ken Chu (朱孝天), and Vic Chou (周渝民), formed after the 2001 TV series Meteor Garden (流星花园, loosely based on BOF)—was a deft self-promotion based on the good looks of those also born into wealth (贵公子).

The Fashion F4: (from left) Victor Chen, Sphinx Ting, Godfrey Gao, and Gaby Lan. Photo: source

Mr Gao, together with fellow models Sphinx Ting (丁春诚, also turned-actor, but continued to be a popular model), Victor Chen (陈绍诚, turned-producer/TV host, but mainly managing his family business) and Gaby Lan (蓝钧天, also turned-actor, as well as member of the hip-hop outfit Maji), became such a high-profile quartet in the Taipei beau monde that the local media initially named them 社交 F4 (Social F4). Their collective good looks and smoulder culminated in a 2008 photo-book Meet Fashion 4, a publication similar to the scores in Japan that cater to vapid pop fandom.

That Godfrey Gao moved among a certain social set wasn’t surprising. Good looks and Western education tend to find company with those similarly blessed (his close friendship with basketballer James Mao, a University of Austin grad who also speaks and posts in English, may attest to that) and attract the attention of influential TV and film producers/ executives. Mr Gao’s early roles were considered small parts in ‘idol’ dramas: forgettable. His first leading character finally came in the to-be-expected sports-themed TV series Volleyball Lover (我的排队情人, 2010), in which he played rich-kid Bai Qianrui (白谦睿), an only-silly-school-girls-will-like Sudoku champ and volleyball player, enlisted by a lass he doesn’t at first love to help train the team she was in, only to find how different things between them will turn out. One regular Taiwan TV series follower at that time called the show “lame” and his acting “strictly for pre-pubescent girls who can’t tell the difference between woods”.

Until his casting in The Mortal Instruments, few thought his acting would go far, let alone to Hollywood. But he was offered a leading role in an American film, 2017’s The Jade Pendant (金山), as an American-born cook caught in the events of the 1871 mass Chinese lynchings in the Old West. It was considered by some to be a “stand-out role”, but did not win him critical acclaim, as the film had a limited release, going almost straight to DVD. His last film, Shanghai Fortress (上海堡垒)—premiered last August—was largely a Lu Han/Shu Qi (鹿晗/舒淇) vehicle. With his part in Chase Me unlikely to be televised, Godfrey Gao had yet, at the time he left this world, shown us the thespian he might become. But, as James Dean, also gone too soon, once said, “If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live on after he’s dead, then maybe he was a great man.”

Godfrey Gao (Tsao Chih-Hsiang, 高以翔), model, actor, basketball player, and KOL, born 22 September 1984; died 27 November 2019

The Show’s Over

For some of us, it’s about time

 

Victoria's Secret show.jpg

It shouldn’t have to take dwindling TV ratings and rising wokeness for the producers of the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show to realise that there is no more appeal in a staged and televised presentation that sells little else other than sex. But, apparently, those are the main reasons—along falling sales—that led to parent company L Brands (also owner of the less-hyped La Senza, as well as Bath & Body Works) announcing, on a quarterly earnings call, that the 2019 show would definitely be cancelled. The alert, of course, knew this months ago.

What took L Brands so long? Audience size believed to (once) number in the tens of millions and the many models who consider an appearance on the show as an Angel, not ASEAN’s Next Generation Leader, but a part of a constantly changing roster of women, who consider the title an honour and even a career high. For those fans who weren’t tuning into live streams of fashion week shows, Victoria’s Secret’s parade of the bevy of the bra-and-panty-clad was a real fashion show—“extravaganza” was how it was often described.

…the mardi gras for flashy underwear-as-outerwear excess was never toned down, only played up

 

The Victoria’s Secret event was never broadcast on any of our local channels—the sexiest show we’ll ever get is Michael Chiang’s Mixed Signals—yet its strong appeal at one time meant that sports bars were showing the show (past years’) on nights when there wasn’t a game that could encourage patrons to order an extra pitcher of beer. That it was the live-action version of FHM magazine (closed in Singapore in 2015) for NS boys (and army regulars alike) only augment their standing as a “girlie show”.

After 24 years of high-profile existence, the Victoria’s Secret presentations were still largely pageant-for-entertainment, with virtually no change to its over-the-top tackiness and objectifying scantiness. Sure, in later years, they added not-quite-Coachella performances by the likes of Shawn Mendes and the Chainsmokers, but the mardi gras for flashy and campy underwear-as-outerwear excess was never toned down, only played up.

Liu Wen in VF.jpgChina’s Liu Wen, even with a good-girl image and a lucrative Estee Lauder contract, was eager to strut down the Victoria’s Secret runway in 2016

It has been suggested that the Victoria’s Secret shows were the fantasies of heterosexual bosses conceived for other heterosexual males—an FTV cruise liner on a catwalk. Donald Trump, reportedly, was a fixture at the staging. That many models love to appear on the show suggested a possible complicity in their choice. The show is an expression of feminism in an era when, contrary to #metoo, ogling was no longer offensive. It was even emancipation from the convention that women’s underclothes should remain, well, under.

Adriana Lima said to The Telegraph in 2011, “Actually, the Victoria’s Secret show is the highlight of my life.” Many of the models called the experience “amazing”, so much so that Kendal Jenner told Popsugar that at her debut in 2015, she “did (cry) a little bit (during) my first fitting. I had tears.” So known was the desirability of the Victoria’s Secret show to top-tier models that E! New wrote yesterday, “Sorry Angels, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is now cancelled”, calling it “the end of an era”.

Much criticism had been leveled at the show (the press announced the cancellation with palpable glee), but inadequate was the acknowledgement that it had, in fact, influenced many others too, including a copy-cat staging in Chengdu, China in 2015. The shows were expensive to put together—reportedly, USD20 million were used in the 2016 production. However, few look-a-likes came close to its OTT, feathered-angel-wings lavishness. If there’s a Victoria’s Secret fashion show legacy, it was the massive good it had done for society by putting the Playboy Mansion on stage.

Photo: Getty Images

The Cuban In America

Obituary | Known mostly to fashion insiders until Michelle Obama wore her dress to the former U.S. President’s inauguration, Isabel Toledo was not afraid to avoid the fashion system and commercial demands that launched the careers of other immigrants such as Phillip Lim and Prabal Gurung

 

Isabel ToledoIsabel Toledo in 2014. Photo: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

We woke up this morning to the news that New York fashion designer Isabel Toledo has passed away. Her husband, the artist Ruben Toledo, told the New York Times that his wife died of breast cancer. She was 59.

Despite a long career that started in the mid-Eighties, Ms Toledo was not known to a larger audience until that dress and coat Michelle Obama wore, as she waved to the crowd on Pennsylvania Avenue during her husband’s inauguration, brought the indie-designer global attention and fashion editors a-calling.

The wool lace outfit comprised a shift dress and a lapel-less coat, cleverly layered to keep the First Lady warm (the interlining was even crisscrossed with pashmina stitches) on a bitterly cold, if jubilant, January day in Washington. Strikingly simple and befitting the wife of the US Commander-in-Chief, the ensemble aroused greater interest for its unusual colour that had people talking and wondering: “what do you call that?”

Barack and Michelle ObamaBarack and Michelle Obama on inauguration day and the dress and coat that caught the eyes of the world. Photo: AP

The answers that emerged would rival any Thesaurus entry for ‘yellow’. According to Ms Toledo, the fabric was in “pale sage” but she preferred to call it “lemongrass”, a colour and herb that few Americans are familiar with, but many media outlets were quick to associate with Thai food. Never mind that on screen or in print, colours are rarely calibrated to reflect the real shade, Ms Toledo was publicity-savvy enough to use an edible plant as reference to create the necessary buzz.

We are aware, of course, that lemongrass, also known by the botanical name cymbopogon, is not that yellow. In fact, chromatically, it is a gradation of muted green (since, by the time we cook with it, it is not fresh off the soil) from the spikelet down to the almost white of the core and the sheathing bract at the base; the sum perhaps hinting at yellow.

The colour description was a publicity coup of sorts. Americans have heard of lemon yellow or melon yellow, but not lemongrass. Was it, in fact, lemon or was it grass? That clever naming suggested that Ms Toledo had a flair for evocative descriptions. She had learnt from the best—after all, she counted the late Andy Warhol as a friend. Indeed, in the ’80s, she socialised with heavyweights of the art scene—graffiti masters Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, as well as fashion bigwigs such as Halston and Anne Klein, with whom she worked briefly from 2006 to 2007. The New York clubbing scene of the era must have influenced too: Ms Toledo’s first show in 1985 was held in the four-storey nightclub, the Danceteria, which, at its second location in Manhattan, was a scene in the 1985 film—starring Madonna—Desperately Seeking Susan.

Isabel Toledo designsDesigns from the Fashion Institute of Technology’s 2009 exhibition, Isabel Toledo: Fashion from the Inside Out. Clockwise from top left, 1996/97, 1998, 2008, 2007, 2005, 2005. Photos: FIT

Born in 1960 in Cuba, Maria Isabel Izquierdo left Camajuani, a small town in the heart of the island in the province of Villa Clara, at age eight with her family to migrate to the United States, where they settled in New Jersey. In a Spanish class of her high-school years, she met fellow Cuban Ruben Toledo, and they married in 1984. They would become lifelong collaborators—a largely two-person collective, before such a term was used, that brought together art and fashion in a place they called the Toledo Studio. For most of her pre-Obama years, Ms Toledo operated under the radar, creating clothes that many considered avant-garde, but not in the European tradition of Vivienne Westwood or Martin Margiela, or the Japanese approach of Rei Kawakubo or Yohji Yamamoto. Rather, hers was more in keeping with the modernism of couture masters such as Geoffrey Beene and, earlier, George Halley.

Despite her talent in design, Ms Toledo preferred to align herself with artisans. She has said, “I never thought of myself as a designer; I’m a seamstress.” Throughout her life, she enjoyed the process of dressmaking more than the actual designing. “Craft takes time, and therefore it is luxury,” she told Time in 2009. “You cannot do an amazingly well-made garment without taking time—not just the time it takes to make something, but also the time it took the maker to come up with the idea.” This could perhaps explain why, in 1998, she stopped subjecting herself to the dictates of time when her clothes had to be presented through fashion shows, choosing in lieu to sell to stores such as Nordstrom and Barneys on schedules determined by her.

Although a New Yorker at heart, Ms Toledo had never played down her Cuban past or the fact that she was an immigrant. As she wrote in her memoir Roots of Style, “To put this into perspective, you must remember that Ruben and I are political refugees, and my staff consists of people from the U.S., China, Korea, Poland, Mexico, and Japan. We have interns from Austria, Quatar, England, and Canada. Ruben’s 85-year-old dad, who had been our cutter, had come from Cuba during the Revolution. So you can just imagine how proud and honored we all were, this small United Nations of Fashion.”

Passing Of A Giant

Obituary | Regardless of what we at SOTD think of Karl Lagerfeld, he really was the last of his kind

 

KL 2018.jpg

Karl Lagerfeld standing on the set of Chanel’s spring/summer 2019 collection last October. Photo: Getty Images

Karl Lagerfeld has left the world and that of fashion. Born in 1933* in pre-war Hamburg, Germany, he died today in post-Web Paris, France—reportedly from the same disease that took the life of Steve Jobs: pancreatic cancer. He has said that he did not really need to be employed but, by most account, he worked at Chanel till his last breath. He was also proud of his perennial contracts with not only Chanel, but Fendi too. As he reiterated to Kendall Jenner in a Harper’s Bazaar joint interview in 2016, “Everybody… hopes I retire so they can get the jobs. But my contracts with Fendi and Chanel are lifelong.”

And he really worked all his life, and most times, at two jobs, or more. He once said, “I am kind of a fashion nymphomaniac who never gets an orgasm. I am never satisfied.” Despite the evident wealth and the numerous homes around the world (he collects them as he did books and furniture, and, some say, friends), Mr Lagerfeld is, by definition, a salary man. Although he most likely would shoot back at such a description, he did say, rather imperturbably, in a 2018 Netflix special on him, “I’m just working-class—working with class.” 

Some reports estimated his net worth to be USD250 million (up till last year). The accumulation of wealth and tony residences must have begun, even if unconsciously, when he arrived in Paris in 1950, aged 17 (according to him, but some accounts claim 14 and earlier arrival). But he wasn’t a struggling pre-employment drifter. He told Bazaar, “I got very nice pocket money, and it was perfect.” In 1954, he won the first prize in the coat category at the International Wool Secretariat fashion design competition (presently known as the International Woolmark Prize). That opened doors for him, but the ensuing years were not exactly what he had envisioned.

Winners of IWS design awards 1954

Winners of the International Wool Secretariat fashion design competition in 1954. From left: Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent, and (far right) Colette Bracchi. Photo: Keystone Eyedea Headpress

(Interestingly, there were two other winners that year: one Colette Bracchi that no one then remembered, nor now, and one Yves Saint Laurent that is so unforgettable the name is still a cash cow for current owner, the Kering Group. Mr Saint Laurent, in fact, won two prizes, a first and a third for dresses, then deemed more prestigious than honours for coats. Mr Saint Laurent’s double win and his subsequent employment at Christian Dior were rumoured to be the source of rivalry and some discord between the two male winners who were, at that time, believed to be friends.)

The prize money, reportedly generous, probably meant nothing to the 21-year-old Lagerfeld. When he entered the world of haute couture, no one knew who he was and where he came from exactly. But they knew he was rich and work was optional because, as was said, that’s what he told them. The budding designer did come from a well-to-do family. His father was said to be an “industrialist” whose business was condensed milk. Or, as was the chatter of the day, chocolate and even ball-bearings, shifting as the tale hawking got more vivid! But truth revealed that Lagerfeld senior worked for one American Milk Products Corporation that sold condensed milk, marketed in Germany as Glücksklee. Family wealth, however, did not make Mr Lagerfeld a professional sloth. In fact, he was, even then, known to be “prolific”—as he still was, up to his death. He was not only quick in sketching, he was also speedy in the execution of design. Traits that served him well in both haute couture and prêt-à-porter at Chanel.

A year after his win, Mr Lagerfeld joined one of the judges of the competition, Pierre Balmain (the others were Hubert de Givenchy and Jacques Fath), to assist him. He would, years later, say “I was not born to be an assistant.” In 1959, he left for Jean Patou, where he designed as Roland Karl ten couture collections during his time there. According to friendly accounts, he was not particularly pleased with his employment at both houses. There were no raves in the same manner as that, many years later, he received continuously at Chanel. It seemed he became rather disillusioned with haute couture. By the early ’60s, he decamped haute couture for ready-to-wear, initially not only a poor cousin to the highest form of fashion, but an impoverished one. Women of taste and means did not buy off-the-rack.

Karl Lagerfeld at Patou

Karl Lagerfeld with a model in one of his designs for the house of Patou. Photo: Regina Relang/source

Karl Lagerfeld’s tenure with brands on the other end of haute couture at first seemed the opposite of Yves Saint Laurent’s dramatic ascend at Christian Dior. For the work he did, which included those for the ballet shoe company Repetto and the supermarket chain Monoprix, Mr Lagerfeld was known as a styliste, not a couturier. This was during a time when being a styliste meant freelancing (mostly) for brands not one’s own and unshackled by the need to reinvent the wheel. But this did not deter him, and his friends at that time later recalled that he enjoyed his job, so much so that he would eventually take up more than one, at a time. Some people said that he knew, after leaving the big maisons, that the future of fashion is in ready-to-wear. Even though not quite a visionary (or a fortune teller, as he was inclined to say), he was not wrong.

In the early to mid-’60s, a small little brand was gaining popularity among women for its chic yet somewhat bohemian-looking clothes—anything added to chic was the antithesis of couture. Chloé was also unusual in that it was a label not named after a designer. In 1964, the year Andre Courrèges introduced the “space look” and, across the English Channel in London, Mary Quant scored big with the mini skirt, Karl Lagerfeld secured an appointment with Gaby Aghion, the charismatic and experienced Egyptian owner of Chloé. He was hoping she’d hire him. She did, but not full-time. The partnership turned out to be highly successful for both Ms Aghion and Mr Lagerfeld and a long one, although not lifelong.

Little known was his pre-Chloé work for Tiziani, a couture house based in Rome that was founded by a wealthy Texan, Evan Richards. It was reported that both men conceived the collection together and threw a lavish launch party in 1963, featuring Catherine the Great’s jewels borrowed from Harry Winston. Apparently, Elisabeth Taylor was a huge fan. Understandably so, and her patronage reflected the designer’s penchant for the glitzy. The early Tiziani sketches that Mr Lagerfeld did reportedly fetched up to USD3,500 a piece in an auction in 2014. He continued to design for Tiziani until 1969. This was only the beginning of his relationship with Italian brands.

Young Karl

The young Karl Lagerfeld, never known to be camera-shy, with his always-present sketch pad. Photo: Jean-Philippe Charbonnier/source

By 1965, Paris warmed to the idea of prêt-à-porter. Apart from the stylistes, a new clutch of designers, called créateurs, emerged—among them Dorothée Bis and Sonia Rykiel, the favourite of Mr Lagerfeld’s mother. His steadily successful turn with Chloé strengthened his resolve to stick with ready-to-wear. In fact, he made quite a success of his freelance work. He added to the growing roster designs for Charles Jourdan, Ballantyne, Mario Valentino, and Krizia. Mr Lagerfeld did not concerned himself with borders, geographical or professional (in 2004, he went even lower market by designing for H&M, which he later considered “embarrassing” as “H&M let so many people down” due to the low stock levels). A year after his collaboration with Chloé, he started on the first of his “lifelong” arrangements: with Fendi.

Karl Lagerfield has such an innate sense of the au courant that success followed almost every collaboration that he did. This was augmented in the ’70s after meeting two other Americans in Paris in 1969 that would very much awaken in him the flair for what would be needed to be cool. They were the illustrator Antonio Lopez (the subject of the James Crump documentary from last year, Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion and Disco) and his ex-boyfriend, the art director Juan Ramos. In Mr Lopez, the German designer found his soulmate, as he admired the former’s distinctive and striking drawings. The Puerto Rican-American duo showed Mr Lagerfeld what Paris fashion wasn’t: fun-filled, disco-soundtracked, and street-influenced.

To be sure, the Chloé designer had always been aware of what went on outside the confines of the design studios or his apartments. Gaby Aghion once said, “When he came back with me in the car, if he saw students, Karl would  take the students’ ideas and transform them into something beautiful. He had an undeniable art of transposing their vision into fashion.” He wasn’t a designer in the mold of Andre Courrèges or Pierre Cardin (or Thierry Mugler in the ’80s, or John Galliano in the ’90s, or Raf Simons in the ’00s); he was always a commercial designer. And was known for it. Francine Crescent, editor-in-chief of the French edition of Vogue at that time, said, “Karl always made collections that sold well; his collections were always impeccable and extremely commercial. Not in a bad way.” In later years, another Vogue editor-in-chief, the just-as-commercial Anna Wintour, concurred by wearing mostly Chanel for her professional attire and on the red carpet.

Karl Lagerfeld iconography

No known designer in his old age shares the same pop fervor Karl Lagerfeld enjoys. His cartoon self even appeared on smartphone covers. Photos: source

It was the keen sense for the saleable, tempered by his love for haute couture—that he turned away from, but not rejected—and the attendant crafts that endeared him well to brands. The Wertheimer family must have had watched Mr Lagerfeld in the wings as he made money for others before hiring him in 1983 to remake Chanel. He was, according to Alain Wertheimer, the brand’s CEO, given carte blanch from day one to design as he pleased for Chanel. Unlike Hedi Slimane at Dior Homme, Saint Laurent, and now Celine, Mr Lagerfeld did not impose his own aesthetical obsessions on Chanel. But just like Mr Slimane, he was immensely commercial, as much as he had always been. As Tyler McCall, deputy editor of Fashionista noted to the Daily Beast, “Those shows were sort of sneakily commercial. If you broke them down, there were still all these basics that a Chanel customer would really want.”

There is, as we know, usually two sides to a dress. Much as Karl Lagerfeld was a proponent of beauty and the enhancement of Chanel’s house codes, he, too, was susceptible to the banal and the excesses that appeal to the nouveau. “For every classic Chanel handbag or fanciful riff on the little black dress inciting lust in the hearts of style-savvy women,” wrote Robin Givhan for Newsweek in 2012, “there have been equally mortifying examples of pandering and buffoonery: a tweed jacket transformed into a circus costume, menswear that would make a drag queen flinch, handbags that reek of self-conscious status climbing.”

Status is the operative word. In the 1980s, Mr Lagerfeld’s re-imagined 2.55 bag, dubbed Chanel Classic (or 11.12), included a double C logo on the twist-lock clasp that was never there when Coco Chanel herself designed it. He later admitted that “what I do Coco would have hated.” Vulgar came to the minds of the purists at that time, but in line with the logomania of that era, the bag took off and spawned many others, flashier than the Classic. Those handbags found legions of queue-willing fans, in men too—Pharrell Williams and G Dragon, just to name two (they’d never, of course, need to get in line). In 2017, vintage bag website Baghunter claimed in their research that in the six years prior, the value of Chanel handbags have jumped a staggering 70 percent, making Chanel a better investment than condos. Status, clearly and quickly, allowed Chanel to make a reported USD4 billion a year.

 

Karl Lagerfeld 1984
Publicity photo of the launch of Karl Lagerfeld in 1984. Photo: Karl Lagerfeld

Designing for others (an average of 14 collections annually in the past years) seemed to suit Mr Lagerfeld—and his bank account—so well that, unlike Yves Saint Laurent, he deferred starting his own label until 1984. Launched with fanfare, but met with lukewarm reception, Karl Lagerfeld the label was, according to the designer, meant to play up “intellectual sexiness”. For sure, Mr Lagerfeld was an intellectual (served by a voracious appetite for books and reading), but it is arguable if his designs were intellectual, the way Martin Margiela’s was. His own line hitherto defied a strong DNA or codes similar to Chanel’s that future designers continuing his eponymous label could bank on. It was, at best, anything goes, a monochromatic expression of ego, more so in latter years when his flat profile became a recurrent logo, as did his cartoon caricature and, subsequently, his pet cat Choupette (both have come this far south-east as Thailand). Simultaneously, he was irreverent. Remember “Karl Who”?

That Karl Lagerfeld understood branding and iconography and used both well and extensively is stating the obvious. No designer, especially in his old age, has been able to market himself as successfully and completely as Mr Lagerfeld, with the cartoon of self infinitely useful on T-shirts and as figurines to be sold as dolls (e.g., the Martell-produced Karl Barbie doll, which was priced at USD200, sold out within an hour at launch in 2014). Which other octogenarian was thus worshipped? Or seemingly adored, even by shallow post-teens such as Kendall Jenner and Kaia Gerber?

In modern fashion, Karl Lagerfeld’s work, being, and lore have culturally far-reaching effects. Even after his death, it is likely that brand Lagerfeld will go on. “I don’t want to be real in other people’s lives,” he once said, “I want to be an apparition.” Some entities do linger. Open not the closet door.

*A note on dates: Like Diana Vreeland, Karl Lagerfeld was fluid with his personal history. He himself often gave conflicting dates on his birth and such. On his website, it is stated that his year of birth was 1938. What is provided here is based on information available in the public domain

Update (19 February 2019, 10pm): According to WWD, Chanel’s studio director Virginie Viard, who has taken the catwalk bow alongside Mr Lagerfeld before and his place, will take over as the Creative Director