Fashion

Jill Kargman on Karl Lagerfeld's Wicked Humor, Irresistible Charm, and Deep Talent for Friendship

"I was the luckiest girl in the world to get a dress designed by Karl Lagerfeld."
IMAGE PATRICK MCMULLAN
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I was nine years old when I met Karl Lagerfeld in Paris backstage after a show. My dad, Arie Kopelman, had been working with Chanel at Doyle Dane Bernbach, their advertising agency, before leaving to go run the fashion house. The commercials my dad worked on were all about perfume, so I remember being shocked they also made clothes.

Karl had one of the sharpest wits I’ve ever known. We all know the Karl classics, such as “I’m allergic to flip-flops,” and “sweatpants are a sign of defeat,” but there were so many more. He and my Dad would cackle backstage and whisper hysterical remarks about anyone who they found affected or obnoxious.


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Arie Kopelman, Jill Kargman, Karl Lagerfeld, Coco Kopelman, and Jill’s husband Harry Kargman at an event in New York in 2008.

When a woman who made people cry and was legendary for stereotypical high fashion bitchiness, was eventually dismissed, Karl said to my dad in his trademark rapid-fire German accent, “That was very nice, they fired her but gave her a title, Vice-Chairman, Special Projects. That’s the good news. The bad news is, there are no special projects!”

But aside from the quips that made Karl the Winston Churchill of Fashion Quotations, he was also incredibly charming. One of my dear friends, a brilliant designer named Frances Stein, was lured by Karl to design accessories for Chanel, where she created some of the most iconic looks. She told me how a young Karl courted her with handwritten letters, with hyacinth pressed into the paper. He brought creativity to every breath.


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A sketch by Karl for the author’s family.

When it was announced Karl would be designing for Chloe, a magazine called my dad for comment, asking if he was worried Karl would be spread too thin, and he responded, “I’d rather have 20 percent of a genius than 100 percent of an idiot.”

Karl could also be so kind. At one of the Met Galas I was feeling insecure near all of the models and celebs. I was so invisible and awkward, and Karl saw me in a borrowed dress and said, “You’re all grown up and you look like the Infanta!” I went from feeling like a zitty Jewish Cinderella to an actual princess in a New York nano.

Then came my engagement. Karl was excited to design my dress since he'd known me since I was a small child. While I of course knew I was the luckiest girl in the world, I was too intimidated to tell him specifically what I wanted. I’d had the cinematic fantasy of standing on that block with my mom and best friends trying on a million styles, and that just wasn’t going to happen.

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Karl’s sketch of Jill's wedding dress, and the author on her wedding day.

So I decided to FedEx Karl a linen dress he’d designed ages ago and wrote a letter saying how much I loved it and wondered if he could use the shape (long sleeves, tight corseted waist, horizontal strips of lace) as his inspiration. He sent back the stunning sketch, which exceeded my wildest reveries. I wrote him a letter of thanks that was so emotional that a tear plopped on the paper and messed up the ink and I had to start over.

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I feel so lucky to have had him in my family’s life, and that my little girls got to meet him in their berets years back at a couture show at the Grand Palais. There will never be anyone like him. His style, artistry, humor, and stage presence are inimitable and there will always be a ponytail silhouette-shaped hole in the fashion world’s heart.

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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