Marking four months and one day since German-born master designer Karl Lagerfeld died Feb. 19 at the age of 85, a “Karl For Ever” memorial celebration was held Thursday at the Grand Palais in Paris. It was a fitting locale, as it had served as a set for many out-of-this-world, over-the-top Chanel fashion shows under Lagerfeld’s tenure. Beyond that, it would be one of few grand and expansive spaces in Paris fit to celebrate the legendary couturier’s life. Within the glass-domed, Victorian-era pavilion, over 56 gigantic portraits of the designer throughout his life and career were on view, including a few with his beloved cat, Choupette.
Staged and designed by theater and opera director Robert Carsen and organized by the three brands that Lagerfeld helmed — Chanel, Fendi and his namesake, Karl Lagerfeld — the program featured a starry, larger-than-life cast. Musician Pharrell Williams; actresses Tilda Swinton, Helen Mirren, Fanny Ardant and Cara Delevingne; dancer Lil Buck; and violinist Charlie Siem performed as part of the 90-minute spectacle which included readings, classical music, dance routines and a short documentary film narrated by Lagerfeld himself.
Other guests included French first lady Brigitte Macron; Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo; Carla Bruni Sarkozy; supermodels Claudia Schiffer and Gigi Hadid; Princess Caroline of Hanover and her daughter Charlotte Casiraghi; artist Takashi Murakami; fashion designers Stella McCartney with husband Alasdhair Willis; and Valentino Garavani with Giancarlo Giammetti, as well as current Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli.
Guests were seated in alternating black and white chairs, a nod to Lagerfeld’s favorite color scheme, set amongst custom carpets, and two Steinway pianos on the main stage. Longtime friend and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour appeared onstage, remarking, “He was the original multitasker, a man who did everything at once.” She was followed by former French Vogue editor-in-chief (now Karl Lagerfeld style advisor) Carine Roitfeld, designer Valentino Garavani and several members of Lagerfeld’s workshop team.
But perhaps most poignant was a film clip opening the program of Lagerfeld interviewing himself, saying, “I don’t deliver a description of my person. You have what you see — there’s nothing behind.” The film included clips with fashion designer peers such as Nicolas Ghesquière, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Haider Ackermann, Clare Waight Keller, Jonathan Anderson, Simon Porte Jacquemus and Kris Van Assche. There were also cameos by models Hadid, Schiffer, Bruni and Natalia Vodianova; actresses Carole Bouquet, Vanessa Paradis and Anna Mouglalis; business leaders LVMH Moët Hennessy CEO Bernard Arnault and Chanel president Bruno Pavlovsky; and creatives including artist Jeff Koons, filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and industrial designer Marc Newson. All were filmed sharing their cherished memories and experiences of Lagerfeld.
Swinton, dressed in a nod to her iconic role in Sally Potter’s 1992 film adaptation of Orlando, read an excerpt from the Virginia Woolf book: “Clothes wear us and not we them. They change our view of the world, and the world’s view of us.”
Up next was Delevingne, in a pink feathered dress, reciting a poem by French writer Colette, one of the late designers’ favorite authors. Images of his famous cat Choupette projected as she spoke.
Mirren then read a passage from Lagerfeld’s memoir as Siem accompanied her on violin.
The Steinway, designed by Lagerfeld, was put to good use by pianist Lang Lang, who performed Chopin’s “Waltz No. 1 in E flat major.”
Carsen then choreographed a Broadway-worthy slew of dancers who kicked up their heels in a musical tribute while Pharrell Williams sang his song “Gust of Wind” to the late designer, encouraging everyone to raise their hands in the peace sign.
Lagerfeld was known to stage elaborate fashion shows for both Fendi and Chanel — re-creating The Great Wall of China and the Trevi Fountain for Fendi, and (at Chanel) transforming the Grand Palais space itself into everything from a Parisian street filled with protesters, a Chanel supermarket, a Chanel airline terminal, a rocket ship launch pad, a replica of the Eiffel Tower, a beach complete with sand and water and, most recently and posthumously, a mountain ski resort town. So it was only fitting that his tribute service was such an intricately choreographed extravaganza.