I first met Karl in the late ’90s. It was a warm July night in Paris during Couture Week, one of those romantic evenings where you look back and think, That was so memorable and magical. It was Paris at the height of Paris couture. He wanted to invite some “cool younger people” to a dinner party at his home, so I was there, I guess representing in his mind a new up-and-comer. By pure coincidence, I had borrowed an evening suit from a friend, Hedi Slimane. It was a prototype for one of the first suits he made for Yves Saint Laurent— he was just starting out there as a menswear designer. I had tried it on and said to myself, It’s kind of flashy, but then I thought, If you can’t wear an evening suit like this to Karl Lagerfeld’s, where can you wear it? His exact first words to me were “Lilac?” Because the suit was in lilac silk and most of the fashion people there were dressed in black, and I showed up in this bright suit. We laughed, and from that point on, we struck up a friendship. He was always, to me, very funny and very generous. He represented all the extravagance and superficiality in the fashion world—I mean, he was a big symbol of that—but at the same time, he was such a kind, genuine, sincere, and authentic person. He was very real.
That suit was his first introduction to Hedi’s work, and six months later we were shooting in Karl’s studio when he asked me if I could introduce him to my friend. We all became close, and in 2002, each of us got a CFDA award. To celebrate, we threw an after party together. The plan was that we would bartend at our own party, just because we all had the same fantasy of “Oh, I’ve always wanted to bartend at a club.” Karl took it very seriously; he learned how to make a cosmopolitan. Halfway through the night, Hedi and I felt like we were the only two serving, and we kept turning around and seeing Karl washing all the glasses. That was one of the funniest things ever, because he just kept saying, “I hate mess!” That’s why in the picture above, you see him with his sleeves rolled up. I’d known him for three or four years at that point, and I had never even seen his forearms.
As a kid growing up in the Philippines, I remember seeing Karl Lagerfeld on TV at the VH1 Fashion and Music Awards, accepting an award from TLC, and I’d read about him in magazines, where I’d see celebrities and socialites wearing his designs, like Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis in her Chanel couture gown. I always associated Karl both with very extravagant couture and with music and pop culture. Being a brilliant designer is one thing, but he was always able to connect the dots, whether it was with supermodels or royalty or pop stars. That was the magic that was Karl. He asked me to throw him a dinner party about a year and a half ago in New York, and Mariah Carey performed for him. It was almost like performing for the pope of fashion. I remember looking around the room: Gigi, Bella, Naomi Campbell. I just kept thinking, These are different worlds colliding. You have the music world, the fashion world, and I think even Lady Bunny was there to represent New York nightlife. It makes me think of those old photos of Studio 54, where you’d see Halston with Liza and Bianca Jagger and Pat Cleveland and Diana Ross—just this mix of people. He was like a DJ who could mix all these incredible tracks.
On January 22, the last day I spoke to him, I called him up a couple of hours after what would be his last couture show. He said, “What did you think of the bride in the finale?” I told him how beautiful I thought it was. And I knew that look, worn by Vittoria Ceretti, was his favorite outfit from the show. ELLE’s cover shoot with Dua Lipa took place just a few days after he passed. The fact that, days after her Grammy win, Dua was dressed in his favorite outfit from his final couture collection bore some real significance to me.
I think what the industry will miss most about Karl is his depth of knowledge and culture. When I first told him I was starting at ELLE as creative director, he said, “I knew Hélène Gordon-Lazareff [who founded the original French edition of ELLE]. I had dinner in her country house with her and her husband. They were a fabulous couple.” To think that back then, after World War II, Karl had visited them in their home—how many people were actually there to tell the story? He could tell you the difference between Le Palace and Studio 54. He could tell you what Diana Vreeland, Halston, and Andy Warhol were like.
And he was a bon vivant who was able to enjoy such an extravagant lifestyle. We’d be driving in his convertible Rolls in Saint-Tropez, and he would look over at me and say, “Ha-ha-ha, isn’t it so fun to be so superficial?” Some people could look at that side of Karl and think “decadent,” but I look at that side of Karl and think, Who lives like that nowadays? And how great it is to really celebrate the good things about life. He was sort of the antithesis of a miser—like Auntie Mame, saying, “Live, live, live!”
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of ELLE.