The world according to Karl Lagerfeld: remembering a ‘quote machine’

Karl Lagerfeld poses next to a sketch of his cat, Choupette, in February 2015. Photo: AFP

Among Karl Lagerfeld’s many gifts was a silver tongue. As busy as the designer was creating as many as 14 collections each year for Chanel, Fendi and his eponymous label, along with other projects, he was never at a loss for words. Among the fashion press he was known as a “quote machine” – you’d never fail to get a great interview when speaking to Lagerfeld. His infamous quotes were even assembled into a book, The World According to Karl, in 2013. I was lucky enough to encounter him several times in my career, and I’ve assembled a few of his unforgettable pronouncements from our conversations.

I first encountered “the Kaiser” in 2007, at a presentation of his photographs of the Audi R8. I asked if he enjoyed driving. “No. I don’t drive,” he replied, and I assumed that our conversation was over. He did not miss a beat: “But you know, I design dresses and I don’t wear them.”

Lagerfeld with his godson Hudson Kroenig in Havana in May 2016. Photo: AFP

He explained that he had a fleet of cars, albeit with a driver. “I love Hummers because I like huge cars. I have three of them, in the same colour. And I like the Lamborghini also, since you ask me,” he said, and then remembered where we were. “But I think Audis are great.”

Lagerfeld once told me that he did not dream at all when sleeping, and was very happy about that. “I have a deep sleep with no dreams,” he said. “I don’t like dreams, I like reality.” His beloved cat, Choupette, was not as fortunate. “She has nightmares. Then she suddenly wakes up.”

Lagerfeld at Chanel’s autumn/winter show in Paris in March 2012. Photo: Xinhua

At a Museum of Modern Art birthday party for Tilda Swinton, Karl told me that Choupette had loved travelling on private jets with her own personal maid, and had accompanied him to New York. But the glamorous kitty stayed at the Mercer hotel, and did not join him at the museum celebration. “Choupette is not a party girl, she doesn’t go to parties.”

Yes, Choupette’s fur did get all over his clothing. “Especially [when] I wear a lot of black. But I mean, who cares? Life is too short for these kind of details.”

Lagerfeld next to a photo of himself and Choupette in February 2014. Photo: AFP

Lagerfeld shot a 2015 calendar for Opel featuring Choupette, even though he did not want her to work. He simply could not turn it down. “I asked for an enormous price, because I don’t want her to work. You know, I say a wild number, and sometimes people say yes, so I have to do it,” he joked. “She did not know that she became the best-paid cat in the world.”

When Lagerfeld was honoured with a Gordon Parks Foundation Award for his creative work in fashion, photography, publishing and filmmaking, I asked if there were other endeavours he wanted to try. “I think what I can vaguely do OK, I’ve tried,” he told me. “So I better develop what I’m doing, work on it; if not, one can get distracted.”

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Choupette, Lagerfeld’s beloved cat, 'became the best-paid cat in the world', even though the Kaiser did not want her to work