“The genius of Karl that people don’t realize is that he had the common touch,” states legendary supermodel Veronica Webb, discussing her friend, mentor, and longtime collaborator, Karl Lagerfeld, after his much lamented death at age 85 last February. On February 19, 2019, just a few weeks shy of Paris Fashion Week, the world lost one of its most legendary fashion designers, Monsieur Karl Lagerfeld, artistic director of Chanel, Fendi, and creative director of his own eponymous label. The brilliantly talented designer, known to a select few as Uncle Karl, was a force to be reckoned with. He was one the last of an era of great designers that included another one of Webb’s closest mentor’s, Azzedine Alaïa, and couturier Yves Saint Laurent.
Webb had a friendship and mentorship with Lagerfeld that spanned over two decades, and began when she was introduced to him by renowned Vogue editor André Leon Talley. In her first year of modeling at the age of 19 she was in Paris when she was introduced to the acclaimed editor by Bethann Hardison, one of the most successful black models of her era, and a modeling agent for the latter half of her career. Hardison was Webb’s agent at the time, whom she describes as, “Bethann was like Rome, all roads lead back to Bethanne.”
Talley, who was a long time, close personal friend and professional ally of Lagerfeld’s, arranged to shoot Webb for Vanity Fair in the courtyard of Lagerfeld’s Parisian mansion. Webb found herself clothed head to toe in a crimson Chanel couture suit. “I was in this beautiful limestone bourgeoisie mansion courtyard, and André had me pose on top of these classic Greek pillars, and I’d never been to a house like this before, I had never worn a Chanel suit before, and I’d never met someone like Karl before”, Veronica said. “American designers tended to be very young and fresh faced, the guy or girl next door, like Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Donna Karan. They were young, touchable, approachable people, although Karl was still fairly young at that point, he seemed like a movie star or member of the royal family.”
Veronica remembers the first time she laid her eyes on the designer in person. “A grand door opened, which was one of the myriad of doors of this Parisian mini-mansion surrounding the courtyard where we were shooting, and out came thee Karl Lagerfeld. Karl descended the staircase wearing his signature black and white suit, white hair pulled back into a ponytail, eyes masked by glasses, and was accompanied by his forever favorite accessory, his fan. In that moment, as I studied him with every fiber of my being, I’d never seen someone like him in the flesh before. He stopped to say a warm and bemused hello to his great friend Andre Leon Talley, and to ask him where his new protege (aka me) had come from. Karl radiated creativity, confidence wealth and power in a way no rock star or movie star ever could. As I scrambled to take this all in, yet another courtyard door opened like a portal in a Roman coliseum, and out of it sailed a Rolls-Royce driven by a uniformed chauffeur who whisked Karl off down the gravel driveway. It was all kind of like that with Karl; these grand magical moments that were short intense encounters that ended with him driving off to yet another luxury destination in his Rolls”.