TORONTO — Several Canadian fashion and design experts who knew couture icon Karl Lagerfeld are recalling a powerful visionary whose influence lives on in their work.
Former model Tricia Helfer says she was stunned to learn Chanel’s creative director died Tuesday and immediately thought of the first time she met him in Paris in 1992.
The “Battlestar Galactica” star, who quit the catwalk in 2001 to become an actress, had just turned 18 and won the Ford Models supermodel of the world contest when she was cast in a Chanel show that fall.
“And I remember I did not do that good of a job,” Helfer recalls. “I walked without swinging my right arm because it was always (accustomed to) holding my bag onto my shoulder. But he was lovely about it and I ended up doing a couple of Chanel campaigns.”
Her inauspicious debut certainly didn’t hurt her career with other revered fashion houses, adds the Alberta native.
“To have somebody that takes the chance on you, to be able to say that you did the Chanel show (meant that) next I was doing Versace and Dolce & Gabbana and Armani and then going to New York. It takes that one person to go, ‘Yeah, I like her.’ And Karl was that for me.”
Toronto-based fashion designer Bojana Sentaler says she met Lagerfeld 10 years ago in Dubai when he was designing villas and she had to interview him for an economic investment report.
“I wore a black and white outfit, of course he wore his gloves and actually I remember asking him … ‘Why do you always wear black and white?’ and he politely said, ‘Because those are the two basic colours of everything.’ He was incredible.”
Afterwards, she told him of her childhood dream to work in fashion but wasn’t sure if she should pursue it.
“Karl bluntly told me: ‘You either have it or you don’t and if you have it, go for it,’” she said from London while attending fashion week to preview Sentaler’s fall/winter ‘19 collection.
In 2009, the year after their meeting, she launched her luxury outerwear brand that’s now a favourite of fashionistas including Meghan, Duchess of Sussex; Kate, Duchess of Cambridge; and Sophie Gregoire Trudeau.
Fashion journalist Jeanne Beker met Lagerfeld many times over the decades as host of “Fashion Television,” and recalls “a master showman” who mentored and inspired her.
“If he saw me he would almost reach out and grab me by the hand and pull me towards him or hold on to my hand while I waited my turn to ask my question. It was sensational,” she says.
Lagerfeld could leave journalists waiting for hours on end for an interview but his generosity and wit meant “he always did deliver,” she says. After his Chanel shows he would stoke the media into a frenzy, she adds.
“It was a mad house at the end of his show when he finally came out to meet the press for the interviews,” she says. “It wasn’t like other designers where you would line up and wait your turn for the interview. He was all about getting everyone gathered around him, he didn’t care if people were shoving their microphones in his face.”
Of course, Lagerfeld could also be “sharp-tongued and he didn’t tolerate fools,” adds Beker. But she was relieved to know he appreciated her unbridled enthusiasm for fashion.
She recalls providing colour commentary at a star-studded VH1 Fashion Awards attended by luminaries including Tina Turner, Prince, Elton John, Madonna, Thierry Mugler, Jean Paul Gaultier, Gianni Versace and Lagerfeld.
Suddenly alerted that she was about to do a live hit with Lagerfeld, she ran over to him and found him flustered.
“He said, ‘But I don’t have my fan!’ And he always had to have a fan because he wanted to cover his double chin, you know,” she says.
“There was a little cue card or something on a table nearby so I grabbed this little piece of cardboard and I folded it into a fan and I gave it to him and I said, ‘Here, use this!’ And he thought that was so charming and so spontaneous and so great and of course he used this fan and hid behind that little fan as I interviewed him.”
Todd Cowan, co-founder and managing partner of Capital Developments, recalls a meticulous artist with a great sense of humour when they met several years ago to discuss collaborating on a Toronto condominium project.
“He’d never done anything in Canada before so this was an opportunity for him to do something new,” says Cowan, who was impressed by a two-storey wall of books that dominated Lagerfeld’s Paris office.
Lagerfeld designed the interiors of two lobbies in the Art Shoppe Lofts + Condos, incorporating a “very sleek, elegant design” in hand-sketched ideas that displayed an “incredible sense of space and proportionality.”
“He sketched the lobby design on a plane without any measurements or plans for guidance. His sketch was almost identical to the architectural drawings, which we found remarkable.”
The buildings are expected to be completed next year, and Cowan expects the lobbies will feature a special homage to Lagerfeld.
“It’s a shame he won’t be here to see his design in real life.”