remembering karl

The Man Who Was in an 18-Year Relationship With Karl Lagerfeld

Photo: Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images

In the wake of Karl Lagerfeld’s death, many are taking the time to remember the objects of his affection, including Choupette, Chanel, and Diet Coke. But what of the designer’s romantic life?

According to French journalist Marie Ottavi, Lagerfeld was in a romantic relationship for 18 years — with Jacques de Bascher, whom Ottavi wrote about in her 2017 book Jacques de Bascher, dandy de l’ombre. Using details gleaned from the man with the ponytail himself, Ottavi described a relationship “based on freedom and open-mindedness” between two very different people. But Lagerfeld was allegedly not the only designer de Bascher was involved with: In the 1970s, de Bascher had what WWD called “a clandestine affair” with Yves Saint Laurent, Lagerfeld’s “friend and sometimes rival,” according to New York’s critic Cathy Horyn.

Ottavi says Lagerfeld always knew about the affair between Saint Laurent and de Bascher, and it was only made scandalous by the negative reaction of Pierre Bergé, the co-founder of Saint Laurent and Yves’s partner. “The affair was not a problem for Lagerfeld. He was angry with Pierre Bergé for breaking their friendship, a very long friendship which began when they were very young, and nobodies,” Ottavi told the Cut. “Karl couldn’t live with anybody (except for Choupette), he told me.”

Ottavi’s book also notes that the relationship between Lagerfeld and de Bascher was never consummated. “I infinitely loved that boy but I had no physical contact with him,” Lagerfeld told her. Rather, Ottavi says, “Their relationship was on another level. It was based on an aesthetic, intellectual, ‘gossip style’ relation. Jacques had a lot of affairs with men, and he used to talk about this with Karl.”

Though it was not a sexual relationship, Lagerfeld spoke about de Bascher in an enduringly romantic way: “Jacques de Bascher, when he was young, was a devil with Garbo’s face … He didn’t dress like anyone; he was ahead of everyone. He made me laugh more than anyone. He was the opposite of me. He was also impossible and despicable. He was perfect.”

Other than de Bascher, there has been much media speculation in recent years about Brad Kroenig, the devilishly handsome model who, according to the Times, is the “most senior and prominent member of a group of male models often referred to as Karl’s Boys,” and who not only worked alongside Lagerfeld, but also vacationed around the world with him. Kroenig’s son, Hudson, is Lagerfeld’s godson, known for appearing aside Lagerfeld in Chanel shows.

But according to Ottavi, Lagerfeld’s relationship with de Bascher was the most significant, with the designer staying by his side until the end, even setting up a cot beside his hospital bed. After de Bascher died of AIDS-related complications in 1989, Lagerfeld — who famously refused to attend funerals, or stay with even his mother at the time of her death — organized the mass that took place.

Recalling stories Lagerfeld told her in his first interviews opening up about Jacques, Ottavi said, “When we talked about Jacques de Bascher, Karl Lagerfeld cried. He didn’t want to leave traces of his love for Jacques. He destroyed all the souvenirs and a lot of documents about him and about his own life. He preferred to burn the past rather than to leave the memory to others. He loved history, but not his own.”

The Man in an 18-Year Relationship With Karl Lagerfeld