I remember my first dinner with Karl. I was nervous, knowing I was about to spend one-on-one time with the great Karl Lagerfeld, who was famous for being curious about every subject and incredibly knowledgable. My father, who was originally from Russia, spent a lot of his childhood in Berlin, and I still remember the enchanting voice of German singer Hildegard Knef, a beautiful soundtrack to my childhood. Looking for a suitable subject of conversation with Karl, I asked him if he knew of her, and off he went, telling me many details and anecdotes about this extraordinary woman. The next day, I received drawings, CDs and letters from Karl about Hildegard Knef. That’s how he was: a passionate and attentive man. He was also the only one to always send me flowers on Mother’s Day, with cards like: “You are the proof that one can be both a great stylist and an amazing mother.”
Karl was one of a kind. When I left Vogue Paris, he was the first to ask to work with me. I can still hear his voice: “Madame Roitfeld, now that you are free, we must work together.” He was the only one to call me by my last name.
Soon he started drawing and painting me, and today I treasure those gifts. The first portrait he took of me in his home marked my life for ever, as he is the one who put my hair in front of my face, creating my “look”.
Karl was one of the smartest, most inventive and innovative people I have ever known, so I took his advice to heart. He encouraged me to be original, telling me: “Everything you’re doing, you are to be the first to do.” It was a trait he valued above all else. When I wanted to start my own perfume line, he said: “OK, you want to do a perfume, now be the first one to do it. Be the first editor to make a perfume. You have to surprise people, because people are always bored.” When I was working with him, I had to surprise him – he always wanted something new. For my first issue of CR Fashion Book, the magazine cover had babies and dogs on it – he did not like that cover so much, it was not his thing. However, he still said: “I’m not sure about the picture but you surprised me and that is great.”
The greatest compliment he ever gave me was that he thought I “made people better”. I think we made each other better, and in the end, we couldn’t tell who had had which idea any more. Our book The Little Black Jacket, for example: I distinctly remember talking to Karl on the phone on a Sunday afternoon and one of us mentioned this idea, but we were never able to remember who.
Karl was my rock. He’s always been there for me, through years of friendship and creation. His sense of humour, words of advice and the precious memories of this time spent together will never leave my thoughts, and this was the same in his personal and private life. Karl had the politeness of a king, though not the punctuality. But whenever he arrived on set, he always looked everyone in the eye and thanked them, including every assistant and crew member.
He had impeccable manners and the elegance of never complaining. I am a Virgo and Karl was a Virgo too: we are very faithful people. Virgos inherently feel that everything needs to have a reason behind it, which also explains his strong work ethic.
He is always in my thoughts, so present that I still catch myself using the present tense when I talk about him today.