Karl Lagerfeld

"In summer I sleep under a white ermine cover and in winter, under sable," declared Karl Lagerfeld when asked what he wore in bed. It was a vintage pronouncement from one of fashion's most outspoken designers - he of the powdered hair, dark glasses and fan.

"Kaiser Karl", as he is known in the fashion press, was born to a wealthy Swedish businessman and his German wife in Hamburg, in 1938. It seems his destiny was mapped out at an early age, for as the story goes, he was said to have demanded a valet when he was just four years old. He taught himself to read and has since become a voracious reader devouring historical biographies, as his mother told the youngster that if he wanted bedtime stories he would have to read them himself.

His mother's famous eccentricity, perhaps also influenced his exceptional talent; when asked why there was a plank overhanging the small pond in the garden, she replied, "It is there in case the goldfish want to get out and take a walk." Two years after declaring to his mother that he wanted to leave Hamburg and move to Paris, Karl won a prize from the International Wool Secretariat. He was immediately snapped up by couture house Balmain, where he stayed until Chloé beckoned in 1963, inviting him to design a pioneering range of luxury ready-to-wear.

However it was Karl's appointment to the House of Chanel, one of the strongest brands in fashion, in 1982, which really put him on the map. The reinvention of the double C logo coincided perfectly with the rise of the yuppie hunger for status symbols, they latched onto Coco's pride and joy, like there was no tomorrow. The little cardigans and chic suits, opulently decorated with lashings of gilt and pearls, all stayed but with an added twist including biker boots, hotpants and headphones. Ten years ago it was estimated that the company was turning over around $400 million each year a significant sum for a privately-owned company.

Apart from Chanel, Karl designs fur coats for Fendi, under his eponymously named label. He is also a keen photographer and has shot many of the Chanel campaigns himself. But perhaps he is most renowned for his acerbic wit Ines de la Fressange, Claudia Schiffer, Stella McCartney and the city of Berlin have all suffered his Teutonic tongue-lashings.

Although rumours abound that he is about to be relieved of the top job at Chanel, a post he has held for almost two decades, the man's staying-power shouldn't be underestimated. After all, if he can reinvent a classic fashion house while staying close to its original spirit, surely he can reinvent himself?

Although rumours abound about his relationship with the avant-garde designer Jeremy Scott, Karl has been resolutely single since the death of his close friend Jacques de Bascher in 1989, "It's a relationship that cannot be repeated. It was not a physical thing, it was something beyond that." Perhaps it was meant to be, his Turkish fortune teller told him when he was 50, that he would have to choose between family, a sex life or a career. "You can't have both," she said.
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