They call him the “kaiser”, and Karl Lagerfeld came as close as you can come to being crowned king of Paris on Tuesday when the French capital awarded the fashion designer its highest honor.
The 83-year-old was given the Grand Vermeil medal by mayor Anne Hidalgo, who called the legendary German-born creator “an immense talent and a wonderful person.”
“Paris loves you – you are Paris,” she told him under a massive 38-meter model of the Eiffel Tower that Lagerfeld built as the centerpiece of his Chanel haute couture show.
“Your genius and talent has made Paris even more magic, creative and beautiful,” Hidalgo said of the designer, whose ageless style and acid tongue have endeared him to generations of Parisians.
“I am a foreigner and we foreigners see Paris and France with another eye,” he told a cheering crowd that included American singer Katy Perry and British actresses Tilda Swinton and Cara Delevingne.
Lagerfeld said that a “new day is dawning in France” after the election of President Emmanuel Macron, its youngest head of state in more than a century.
“Everyone is in love with Paris again, and with France, and wants to be here,” said the designer, who has lived and worked in the city since 1952 when he and a young Yves Saint Laurent became firm friends.
“It’s great also that French is again becoming a hip language. I want to say ‘Vive la France!’ and ‘Vive Paris’ for the Olympics in 2024!” he added, in a reference to the city’s bid to stage the Games.
Lagerfeld’s Chanel show under the dome of the Grand Palais, dominated by his Eiffel Tower, was a celebration of Paris, with a small army of more than 60 of the world’s top models on the runway.
The designer went strong on Chanel’s classic tweed look with subtly inset crystals for his winter coats and suits. Shoulders were much more rounded, and all the models bar the final bride wore brimmed hats somewhere between a boater and a bowler.
As at Dior the day before, Lagerfeld went for more somber grey hues, mixing them with black, purple and dark blue tones, lifted by the reflective sheen of tiny inlaid crystals and ankle and knee-length boots.
Fellow designer Julien Fournie, who was also showing his haute couture collection Tuesday, described Lagerfeld as one of the “true greats”, paying tribute to the longevity of his creative spark.
“You have to draw and design all the time. You have to produce all the time. Karl has got it so right, unlike this new generation of designers who do three sketches and walk around them for six months and call that genius.”
Fournie channelled a 1940s golden age of glamour look in his show, with long sheath evening dresses that brought Lauren Bacall to mind.
He told AFP that with arms and chests often covered, it was all about suggestion. “You see nothing but every form of a woman’s body is celebrated,” he told AFP, saying that he designed for “real women with hips and breasts.”
“I make incredible clothes for incredible women,” he added, “women who want to decide what the world of tomorrow will be.”
Russian designer Ulyana Sergeenko continued the sober theme with a collection almost entirely in black, lifted here and there by a bit of silvery grey.