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Anna Wintour on Karl Lagerfeld’s MET Retrospective: “A Tribute to Karl Feels Like a Tribute to Life Itself”

Wintour with Lagerfeld at the drive-in theater Chanel staged in Dallas, 2013. Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Martensen

Karl Lagerfeld was many things: a friend, a consummate artist, a paradox. He was a designer who thrived on attention but also led an intensely private life. He was a well-read intellectual who adored the heady lights of popular culture. His desk heaved with books and paper, but he always had the latest technology at his fingertips. And he, of course, declared that fashion didn’t belong in a museum—it should look ahead, not be consigned to history. But here he is with a retrospective at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.

I’m at peace with the small role I’ve played in this last contradiction because I know he would have loved being recognized—and there’s simply no one more deserving. All credit goes to Andrew Bolton, the Costume Institute’s brilliant curator who has titled the new exhibition “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty,” an allusion to the painter William Hogarth, who believed that an ever-turning, ever-changing line captures more energy and life than a straight one. I can’t imagine a better metaphor for the revolutionary effect Karl had on fashion.

A life lived as Karl’s was—gloriously, restlessly, always in public, and full of fascinating twists, turns, and transformations—warrants a celebration, and that is what we’ve organized here. Vogue is looking back at Karl’s history, at his work for Chanel, Chloé, Fendi, and his own label. Rafael Pavarotti took the stunning photographs of these designs, with Karl’s friend, muse, and collaborator Amanda Harlech by his side as fashion editor. To accompany them Amanda has written a magical remembrance of Karl that returns him to me in vivid detail—an act of memory for which I couldn’t be more grateful.

Backwards and forwards at once: That was Karl’s restless way. And so a second celebratory portfolio casts his legacy into the future. This was quite a project, one with a complexity and ambition that Karl would have approved of. We asked 10 designers to create looks inspired by him, and then we brought their incredible creations to the Grand Palais in Paris—a site where Karl showed his Chanel collections time and again, but one that happens to be under significant renovation. Nevertheless, Annie Leibovitz, along with fashion editor Alex Harrington, and models such as Shalom Harlow, Naomi Campbell, Kendall Jenner, and more came together—hard hats required!—to be surrounded by scaffolding and Beaux Arts splendor. In the resulting images Annie captured something so very Karl: unforgettable fashion, high drama, a sense of the past and the future colliding. Her pictures have cinematic scale but also an intimacy that I can’t help but be moved by. For these are models and designers (and one very famous cat) who knew Karl, many as well as anyone did, who benefited from his friendship, his mentorship, his joy and curiosity, his impatient interest in the world around him. A tribute to Karl feels like a tribute to life itself, a celebration in its purest form. We all miss him so very much.

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