Karl was Charles Mingus’ rage, Tom Waits' balls, Helmut Newton’s elegance and raw sex, Steve Jobs' uncompromising drive, Patti Smith’s “Piss Factory” all rolled into a career built on weaving black, white and hot pink thread into fashion glory.
My first trip to Paris as a photographer was with Carrie Donovan - fashion director of the NY Times. I had poked into her W 43 St. office, asked her to take me to a fashion show and she said, “Meet me at the Miyake show next Wednesday in Paris.”
I knew nothing about the fashion world. There I was tucked under Carrie’s seat in the front row peering out at pure beauty. Listening to Tom Waits blasting every ear drum with “TEMPTATION”!
Then there I was at a sitting for a Chanel show. Karl sat at his throne built with handbags and jewelry. From his left came the most famous fashion models in the world for a final tweak. From his right was a parade of fashion editors and glitterati sharing a seat beside the master and often leaving with new jewels.
I climbed up on a bookcase to take pictures of the whole scene. Karl looked up and yelled, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING UP THERE?” I said, “I AM TAKING PICTURES!!” He laughed. His laugh was my permission.
Later he invited me up to his home in Paris. I was the first photographer he had allowed in. There were 20 marble steps leading up to the entrance. On each step was a tuberose Diptique candle. When I reached the entrance I was totally high - which helped, because the house was a museum and I was totally overwhelmed. We had invited Christy Turlington to come along. I asked Karl to sit at his desk and draw on her leg.
Back in NY, I started getting packages from Karl - catalogs, photo books, quick notes. All handwritten. All inscribed. He was old school and generous like that, too.
There was an event at the old Whitney Museum on Madison one night to honor Karl. The crème de la crème of NY fashion society was out in front as Karl’s car pulled up. I was there shooting for Esquire. When Karl emerged he looked out at the crowd and saw me, “George Lange - my favorite NY photographer!”
From today’s obit in the NY Times:
“Ideas come to you when you work,” he said backstage before a Fendi show at age 83. As a result, Mr. Lagerfeld never stopped creating.