By THOMAS ADAMSON
PARIS (AP) — Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel's iconic couturier whose designs had an unprecedented impact on the entire fashion industry, died Tuesday in Paris, prompting an outpouring of love and admiration for the man in the trademark white ponytail, high starched collar and dark enigmatic glasses who dominated high fashion for the past 50 years.
Although he spent virtually his entire career at luxury labels catering to the very wealthy — including 20 years at Chloe — Lagerfeld's designs quickly trickled down to low-end retailers, giving him global influence.
Such was the enigma surrounding the German-born designer that even his age was a point of mystery for decades, with reports he had two birth certificates, one dated 1933 and the other 1938.
In 2013, Lagerfeld told the French magazine "Paris Match" he was born in 1935, but in 2019 his assistant still didn't know the truth — telling The Associated Press he liked "to scramble the tracks on his year of birth — that's part of the character."
Chanel confirmed that Lagerfeld, who had looked increasingly frail in recent seasons, died early Tuesday in Paris. Last month, he did not come out to take a bow at the house's couture show in Paris — a rare absence that the company attributed to him being "tired."
"An extraordinary creative individual, Lagerfeld reinvented the brand's codes created by Gabrielle Chanel: the Chanel jacket and suit, the little black dress, the precious tweeds, the two-tone shoes, the quilted handbags, the pearls and costume jewelry," Chanel said.
The brand's CEO Alain Wertheimer praised Lagerfeld for an "exceptional intuition" that was ahead of his time and contributed to Chanel's global success.
"Today, not only have I lost a friend, but we have all lost an extraordinary creative mind to whom I gave carte blanche in the early 1980s to reinvent the brand," he said.
Tributes from fellow designers, Hollywood celebrities, models and politicians quickly poured in. Donatella Versace thanked Lagerfeld for the way he inspired her and her late brother Gianni Versace. Former supermodel Claudia Schiffer, who credits Lagerfeld as her mentor, called him her "magic dust."
"What (Andy) Warhol was to art, he was to fashion; he is irreplaceable," she said.
Chanel said Virginie Viard, his longtime head of studio, will create the house's upcoming collections. Chanel did not say whether her appointment was permanent.
Lagerfeld was one of the most hardworking figures in the fashion world, holding down the top design jobs at LVMH-owned luxury label Fendi from 1977, and Paris' family-owned power-house Chanel in 1983. He lost around 90 pounds in his late 60s to fit into the latest slimline fashions.
At Chanel, he served up youthful designs that were always of the moment and sent out almost infinite variations on the house's classic skirt suit, ratcheting up the hemlines or smothering it in golden chains, stings of pearls or pricey accessories. They were always delivered with wit.
"Each season, they tell me (the Chanel designs) look younger. One day we'll all turn up like babies," he once told The Associated Press.
His outspoken and often stinging remarks on topics as diverse as French politics and celebrity waistlines won him the nickname "Kaiser Karl" in the fashion media. Among the most acid comments included calling former French President Francois Hollande an "imbecile" who would be "disastrous" for France in Marie-Claire, and telling The Sun British tabloid that he didn't like the face of Pippa Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge's sister.
"She should only show her back," he advised.
Lagerfeld was also heavily criticized for sending out a negative message to women when he told France's Metro newspaper that British singer Adele was "a little too fat."