The designer Karl Lagerfeld, who died in February, was honoured in Paris on Thursday with a memorial as upbeat and stadium-sized as the catwalk shows which made him a fashion legend.
Karl for Ever, a 90-minute tribute at the Grand Palais, his favoured fashion show venue, was the first public celebration of Lagerfeld and was jointly staged by the three houses for which he worked: Chanel, Fendi, and his eponymous label.
The designer, who hated funerals – “I’d rather die,” he once said – had been cremated in a private ceremony.
Lagerfeld’s particular genius was in bringing a feelgood factor to the traditionally chilly world of Parisian elegance. So it was appropriate that the scene on Thursday evening was chic, but not sombre. Brigitte Macron and the model Gigi Hadid were in black, but Anna Wintour chose white and Tommy Hilfiger a graphic checkerboard suit. The seating, with chairs in alternating black and white, added a wink to Lagerfeld’s own scrupulously monochrome signature look.
The theatre and opera director Robert Carsen had the daunting task of doing justice to a showman who at previous Paris fashion weeks transformed this same venue into a casino, an airport and the launch pad for a rocket which blasted into the air. Carsen made do with documentary footage montaged into a biopic screened on three huge screens, interspersed with live performances.
A short parade of models in archive Lagerfeld designs aside, this event was about Lagerfeld the man, not Lagerfeld the fashion designer. Helen Mirren even appeared to be dressed as Lagerfeld as she took to the stage in a high-collared white shirt and black suit to read extracts from his book The World According to Karl. Cara Delevingne, in kittenish pale maribou feathers, was surely channelling Lagerfeld’s beloved cat Choupette as she performed a reading from the French author Colette. Karl himself took the role of narrator of his own story, through clips taken from filmed interviews spanning many decades.
Karl for Ever celebrated the panoramic field of vision across culture which Lagerfeld, a voracious reader and music lover, brought to fashion. Concert pianist Lang Lang played Chopin on a Steinway piano designed by Lagerfeld, before Pharrell Williams performed his song Gust of Wind. Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Lagerfeld’s favourite character in literature, was brought to life by the actor Tilda Swinton, in a dandyish burgundy cravat, reading a passage from the book in which Orlando muses that “clothes change our view of the world, and the world’s view of us.” Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, spoke of talking politics with Karl and recalled his enthusiasm for diversity in French society. Dancer Lil Buck performed an interpretative modern solo wearing a Karl Lagerfeld branded tracksuit and Nike trainers.
Sidney Toledano, chairman of the LVMH group which owns Fendi, spoke of the softer, warmer side of a man he worked with for half a century. “Karl was cultured with a capital K,” he recalled, “and he was also the only man ever to send me a bunch of flowers for Father’s Day.” Alain Wertheimer, of the intensely private family who own Chanel, made a rare public appearance, reminiscing of conversation with Lagerfeld that “there was no point looking for subjects that he didn’t know about, because there weren’t any.” A colleague spoke of the soundtrack to life in Karl’s studio – a blend of loud music and the constant thwack of crumpled paper hitting the waste paper bin as the designer rejected a less-than-perfect sketch.
Fashion designers Valentino Garavani and Maria Grazia Chiuri, artist Jeff Koons and filmmaker Baz Luhrmann were among those paying on-screen tribute. Even Choupette made a cameo appearance, accompanied by her personal assistant, Francoise.