RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld has died. He was a creative director at Chanel for more than 30 years. And he had his own signature style - those dark sunglasses, white ponytail and high, white collars. Joining us to remember Lagerfeld's legacy is Dana Thomas. She's a Paris-based reporter who has written about the fashion industry. Dana, thanks so much for being with us.
DANA THOMAS: My pleasure.
MARTIN: And I understand you interviewed Karl Lagerfeld a number of times. What was he like?
THOMAS: He was larger than life. And when we say that - you know, people say that, but he truly, truly was. We have a great French saying - a grand monsieur. And he was a grand monsieur. He spoke a mile a minute. I'm an old-school newspaper reporter and take my notes on a pad with a pen. I could not keep up with Karl. I always had to tape-record him. And he said it was because his mother used to make him speak fast, or she'd cut him off. He was just always so bright and charming and hilarious. He would make you laugh. And he was filled with great quips. You would say things like, sweatpants are a sign of defeat, or I'm very much down to Earth - just not of this Earth. And I remember one time I was talking to him about houses for Architectural Digest. And he was working on one. And I said, I was working on one. And he said, well, you'll never be finished. The only day you finish a house is when you sell it or you die. You know, that was the kind of conversations you'd have with Karl.
MARTIN: Do we know much about his life behind the sunglasses, behind the the iconography and the image? He did cultivate this sense of mystery.
THOMAS: He did cultivate the sense of mystery. Yes, he - and he was furious when my friend and colleague Alicia Drake wrote a biography that sort of demystified his mystery. He grew up in Germany. And he was from a very bourgeois family. His father worked for Carnation milk. They - you know, it was a good-money family but not big money. He was very well-educated. And he came to Paris as a teen to be a fashion designer and broke through at the same time as Yves Saint Laurent. They actually shared a prize - a design prize together. And their lives and their careers ran parallel. But he - you know, he hid his birth date. It's still not even sure. The New York Times said Chanel said it was 1938. Alicia said it was 1933. And the Hamburg Genealogical Society said it was 1935. I'm sure Karl would adore that nobody couldn't even get his obit date right - his birthdate right in his obits. It's just perfectly Karl.
MARTIN: What's the mark he left on the fashion world? What will his legacy be?
THOMAS: Well, his legacy is that - you know, he said himself, I would like to be a one-man multinational fashion phenomenon. And that's exactly what he was. He worked for - I mean, you could - you would lose track on what he was doing. He worked for Fendi. He worked for Chloe. He worked for Chanel for 36 years. And he would do all these at the same time. He had his own brand. And then he had his second own brand. And he had his publishing imprint. And he was a photographer. He even designed a Coca-Cola Light can at one point because he was one of her biggest drinkers. And he - there was a Mattel Barbie. And there was - you know, there was everything. He was Karl. He was this multitalented - you know, this Renaissance man, this omnivore of, you know, every sort of culture. And then he poured it all into all the different design work he did.
MARTIN: Dana Thomas is the author of "Gods And Kings: The Rise And Fall Of Alexander McQueen And John Galliano." Dana, thanks so much for your time.
THOMAS: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.