"There is something unforgettable about her, the way she moves, the way she plays, she's an inspiration for elegance – for attitude," the late Karl Lagerfeld said about Choupette, with whom he shared the last eight years of his life.
The prolific designer, who never married, said she was the love of his life, and if he could he would have exchanged vows with her. He likened to Greta Garbo, and she herself earned £2 million in 2015 from modelling contracts. The only issue was that Choupette – who had not one but two personal maids and shared Lagerfeld's pillow – was a 10-year-old Birman cat.
During his illustrious career, during which he saved Chanel from fading into irrelevance, instead turning it into a $4 billion-a-year industry, he was described as racist, fatphobic, Islamophobic and opposed to the #MeToo movement. He said in 2007 that his controversial persona was an act.
So you have to wonder if Lagerfeld – who lied constantly about his age and misrepresented his parents (saying his mother was “Elisabeth of Germany”) not to mind sharing his fortune with a cat – was the greatest showman of all time. The monochrome-clad designer, known for his outrageous runway theatrics, over his 35-year tenure at Chanel transformed the Grand Palais in Paris into spooky woodland forests, a rocket ship and a snowy Swiss scene complete with log cabins and snow.
Lagerfeld was described as "the soul of fashion" by Anna Wintour, the former editor of American Vogue. Even after his death, in 2019, the master of theatrics continues to attract controversy. There are reportedly seven in contention for his €200 million fortune; even his beloved feline is purportedly named in the will, which also includes Chanel employees, favoured male models and his cat's personal maid. His accountant disappeared last year, throwing the will into disarray, after it was reported in French media that the designer's fortune was being investigated for tax fraud as far back as 2016.
His affairs now seem to be shipshape, as his personal effects and collections will be auctioned by Sotheby's this autumn and in the early spring of 2022 in a series of eight sales, staged across Monaco, Paris and Cologne.
The 1,000 lots, encompassing his wardrobe, vast art collection, furniture and personal effects, are sure to attract worldwide interest. And if there was ever a case where provenance is of utmost importance, it will be this sale. Take the Dom Perignon Balloon Venus. Jeff Koons (who, as a living artist, sold the most expensive piece of art when his Rabbit achieved more than $91 million in 2019) created a limited edition of 650 bottles of pink champagne set in a holder, in conjunction with Dom Perignon.
These 60cm-tall polyurethane-resin versions of the artist's take on the 25,000-year-old fertility symbol Venus of Willendorf were originally on sale for about €20,000 apiece. The sale lists Lagerfeld's at €20,000-€30,000, which appears to be a conservative estimate given that one sold anonymously through Phillips in 2018 for $32,500 (€27,492).
Also in there is a serigraphy (silkscreen) of Lagerfeld by Takashi Murakami, a Japanese artist who has collaborated with Louis Vuitton, Issey Miyake, Kanye West and the urban brand Supreme. Murakami was named in 2008 as one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people – the only visual artist included. His anime-inspired sculpture My Lonesome Cowboy fetched more than $15 million. The unique piece for Lagerfeld may well achieve more than its estimate of €80,000-€120,000.
Another piece that appears to have a very conservative estimate is the Diapason Desk (1968) by Marzio Cecchi, from a limited edition of 10 pieces. A similar piece achieved €15,000 through 1stdibs.com, so with the Lagerfeld link the €2,000-€3,000 estimate appears conservative.
During the last two decades of his life Lagerfeld sourced contemporary works by Marc Newson (whose iconic Zenith Chair is seeking €40,000-€60,000), Martin Szekely and Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, which gave his homes a futuristic aesthetic.
The sale will also feature his personal effects: his household linens, his three Rolls-Royce cars, and more than 200 pairs of his emblematic fingerless gloves, which he consistently wore for 20 years, along with designer suits and what the catalogue refers to as “an astonishing number of Goyard suitcases”.
As for Choupette the cat, her personal effects also feature, along with a sculpture of her (€5,000-€7,000). Like her late master, she has embraced the limelight, with her own agent and more than 500,000 followers on social media. Judging by her posts over the past two years, it appears she has also learned to write.