Luxury fashion is not possible without a little bit of wizardry. What else could elevate the names of those storied houses — Balmain, Gucci, Dior — if not a dash of magic? It takes believing in card tricks to be impressed by a magician; so too does it take belief in a brand's mythological designers to find them worthy of their clothes' price tags. For some 60-plus years of his life, Karl Lagerfeld, who died at the age of 85 on Tuesday, worked his magic as the famous creative director who revived Chanel and Fendi, in addition to launching dozens of other notable projects and collaborations and creating an instantly-recognizable public persona.
And naturally, just as with every great magician, Lagerfeld had a trusty animal companion to assist in his performance.
There's no Lagerfeld without Choupette Carry on! pic.twitter.com/4A4o7hbRRp
— It's not like I broke his face (@ChillKessel) September 18, 2018
It is almost impossible to tie Lagerfeld to just one of his creations. Particular moments might stand out — his iconic 1991 hiphop collection, the time he transported an iceberg from Sweden for Chanel's Fall 2010 runway in Paris — but distilling Lagerfeld's legacy into a single image is surprisingly frustrating. He was famously restless, jumping from inspiration to inspiration while rejecting, as The New York Times put it in their obituary, "the idea of fashion-as-art, and the designer-as-tortured genius." The closest one might come to encapsulating Lagerfeld is a simple portrait of the man himself, with his signature Hilditch & Key shirt (he was said to have owned 1,000), his opaque black glasses, and his white hair pulled back in a ponytail. That being said, a portrait of Choupette might do just as well.
Choupette, as her countless fans can attest, is no ordinary cat. And as one might expect, Lagerfeld — who polite company might have deemed "an eccentric" — was no ordinary owner, either. While he'd sworn off pets as recently as 2012 ("They die so I don't like them," he told The Cut), all that changed when he met the right one. "[Model] Baptiste [Giaconi] gave [Choupette] to me for Christmas to watch for two weeks when he was away," Lagerfeld told WWD in 2012, around when Choupette was 9 months old, "but then I refused to give her back."
Sure, that might be called "stealing" by most people, but how was Lagerfeld to resist? With her icy blue eyes and ragdoll-like face, Choupette seemed born for a life of luxury (aren't all cats?). She is as at home on a private jet as she is in her personal sound-system equipped suite in Lagerfeld's home. In interviews, Lagerfeld would gush about Choupette's refinement. "She did two jobs and made 3 million euros last year," he told Metro World News. "One was for cars in Germany and the other was for a Japanese beauty product. I don't allow her to do foodstuffs and things like this. She's too sophisticated for that." In another interview with Numéro, Lagerfeld was appalled at the suggestion Choupette might be so bourgeois as to purr: "No, no, no!" he replied. "She is much more sophisticated than that, a sort of silent Jean Harlow."
— MarkaVIP (@MarkaVIP) January 16, 2015
Lagerfeld had also compared Choupette to Greta Garbo, a "silent-movie vamp," and the fussy little Infanta at the center of Velázquez's famous Las Meninas. She was only brought out to meet his most "rare and exceptional guests like Caroline de Monaco, who also has a cat," Lagerfeld revealed. Choupette would reportedly dine on crystal with Lagerfeld at the dinner table because she "doesn't want to eat on the floor," and she was attended to by two personal maids around the clock. She "even knows how to use an iPad," Lagerfeld claimed. He admitted to keeping a kitten's log of Choupette's going-ons — not to be confused with Choupette's unofficial fan account, Choupette's Diary, which boasts more than 127,000 Instagram followers — and that in the first nine months of the cat's life, it was already "almost 600 pages" long.
Like any self-respecting fashion designer's muse, Choupette also had her own $315 limited-run candle ("notes of cinnamon and pink pepper, a floral heart, and base notes of amber, musk, and woods"), countless Lagerfeld-branded clothing items, a Chanel handbag, and was the inspiration for one of the Grands Appartements at the famous Hôtel de Crillon.
Lagerfeld had remained uncommitted in his love life after the passing of his partner, Jacques de Bascher, in 1989, but he recently teased to CNN that while "there is no marriage, yet, for human beings and animals … I never thought that I would fall in love like this with a cat." Choupette, who was deprived nothing while Lagerfeld was alive, almost certainly has a small fortune set aside to pay for her continued pampering for the rest of her days.
Admittedly, for many celebrities, pets are accessories, not so unlike an ermine fur to be thrown over an arm for an added dash of character and texture. Lagerfeld, too, was not lacking in a love of accessories; he of course made plenty in Choupette's image. But more than just complementing his outfits, "Mademoiselle" seemed an essential part of the performance of his life. As fans admired, it was as if "there's no Lagerfeld without Choupette."
Lagerfeld was a deeply private person, hiding himself behind sweatpants-excoriating witticisms and his endless body of work. But his respect for the sophistication of Choupette felt revealing, a constant in a world he was constantly reshuffling. "I think it's grotesque," Lagerfeld told New York of his infatuation with the cat, "but what can you do? I believe in the unique."